A year ago in Afghanistan, Joey Smith (Jason Statham) was in the British Special Forces battling the insurgents, but something dreadful happened that he was partly responsible for. This is the reason he is now a down and out on the streets of London, sleeping in cardboard boxes and drinking as much alcohol as he can get his hands on to cancel out the terrible memories of what he has done. However, this doesn't help when almost every night he and his fellow homeless are victimised by a gang to steal their drugs from them and beat them up: Joey's best friend Isabel (Victoria Bewick) implores him not to fight back.
But you can only push the Stath so far before he will retaliate, although Hummingbird, also known as Redemption in some territories, was not your usual Jason Statham movie, as here he actually got to - gasp! - act. The history of action heroes stretching their thespian muscles to prove they really do have some kind of range outside of firing rocket launchers and beating up opponents in hand to hand combat is not perhaps a pretty one, and often involves the star in question returning to the action genre which made their name fairly hastily. In this case, Jason did indeed return to that, but many of those who watched him here thought, wait a minute, he's not too bad here.
He wasn't going to give any of the heavyweights at the National Theatre sleepless nights, but given dramatic scenes by writer and director Steven Knight to perform and he acquitted himself with pleasing style, even if the film could not resist regular lapses into his more accustomed fist in face sequences. Those expecting that kind of behaviour, and therefore the more traditional Statham movie, might well be disappointed because this moved a lot more deliberately, resisting throwing up high octane scene after scene to examine the lives of its two main characters, Joey and a nun he has met at a soup kitchen, Cristina (stick thin, birdlike Agata Buzek). After escaping the thugs when he does fight back a bit, Joey breaks into a posh apartment.
Here, deducing he has a few months to play with before the owner returns, he starts to set up some kind of life for himself, giving up the booze and trying to see to it that Isabel is all right, all the while providing for his fellow homeless when he makes some money raiding the absent owner's bank account and getting a job with a Chinese businessman (Benedict Wong) who needs a heavy around to strongarm locals into paying up the debts they owe him. Then comes the bombshell: Cristina breaks the news that Isabel has been found dead, murdered after spending time as a prostitute, and Joey becomes the avenging angel you might have been expecting all along.
So Hummingbird was really a revenge movie, which was conventional enough, yet with Knight on screenwriting duties this was more of a piece with his scripts for Dirty Pretty Things or Eastern Promises in that they took a long, hard look at London's underbelly and the users and used who populate it. This time around his social conscience was concerned with the fate of British soldiers who leave the forces and end up directionless, and worse, with serious mental health problems after a traumatic experience of war, here embodied by Joey, and though some of the dialogue he got was a shade too pointed and self-aware to telegraph to the audience the director's intentions, Statham was very convincing as a man who had been taught how to kill but not how to cope with the conflicted feelings those acts brought out in him. Indeed, Knight's eye for casting helped sell what could have been simply oddball, and if it didn't quite escape its eccentricities they did make it more authentic, funnily enough, because real life does not wrap up neatly like many movies do. Music by Dario Marianelli.