A tough and uncompromising look at life on the streets of London after dark for homeless ex-servicemen, from the writer of Eastern Promises and the cinematographer of The Mission and The Killing Fields – are not words one would usually expect to be followed by-starring Jason Statham.
Despite working incredibly hard on his film career over the past fifteen years or so, earning similar paychecks to Hollywood’s homegrown A-listers, Jason Statham has yet to prove himself to critics and audiences as a serious actor, but hopefully that is all about to change with acclaimed writer Steven Knight‘s (Dirty Pretty Things, Amazing Grace) feature directorial debut Hummingbird. Let this be a warning: Jason Statham is admittedly still as tough as ever but may very possibly make you cry.
Homeless, unkempt and long-haired Joey Jones (Statham) spends his nights on the darker side streets of London’s West End, an underworld of shady deals and derelicts, drinking away the trauma from his time as a soldier in Afghanistan and a vengeance-fuelled killing spree. Giving chase one night, after defending the honour of a homeless girl from a pair of thieving crack addicted pimps, he finds access to a swanky, fully furnished and stocked rooftop apartment belonging to a gay artist, who just happens to be away in New York for the next six months.
Making the most of the opportunity, Joey helps himself to the premium vodka, cleans himself up, picks out a suit and finds himself work in the kitchen of a Chinatown restaurant. While stepping in on one occasion to calm down some of its more exuberant clientele, his skills at close combat draw the attentions of the restaurant’s manager Mr. Choy (Benedict Wong – Prometheus) and is soon making piles of cash doing the jobs “no one else will take” on behalf of Mr. Choy’s employer’s more unscrupulous business activities; driving accomplices from gang hits, collecting protection money and checking on a fresh consignment of illegal immigrants amongst his increasingly questionable tasks. However conflicting his ethics and actions may be, never far away from his thoughts are his estranged wife and young daughter out of town and, closer to “home”, his benevolent angel in the form of nervous novice nun Cristina (Agata Buzek – In The Bedroom) whose care and attention to him shall not go unpaid. Soon after Joey begins earning, the shelter for his “street family” (which Cristina supervises) finds itself with gifts of takeaway deliveries and Jones soon gains a reputation on the underground as their very own Robin Hood by bestowing them with his ill gotten gains. While a difficult but natural and very real love develops between Cristina and Joey, and as his bad deeds begin to outweigh his good ones, the clock begins to count down as Joey needs to settle a personal vendetta, Cristina must make a life changing decision and the owner of the apartment could be back any moment.
As would be expected from Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges, the film is a visual feast despite its more unglamorous settings, enhanced by a Dario Marianelli‘s gorgeous score. What is most surprising however is how comfortably the blockbuster-friendly action sequences merge into the melodrama, never feeling like they’ve been shot in a nearby sound studio, and these aesthetics are balanced in Knight’s scriptwriting, as equally natural as it is an urban fairy tale. Considering just how deep into the underworld’s activities Joey finds himself, it always feels as if sunshine’s just around the corner. Thankfully Hummingbird doesn’t ruin itself at the finish with too many false hopes satisfied, finding its own angle on a bittersweet yet justifiable ending.
Regardless of the prestige behind the camera, the real magic is down to both leads. Curiously beautiful and soulfully honest, Polish actress Agata Buzek is astonishing in her first English language role, her nervy yet wholesome affections for Joey feeling uncomfortably comical yet utterly natural, indeed it may well partly be this chemistry which has brought out something rather special from Statham. His emotional range in Hummingbird is quite extraordinary compared to what he’s displayed in the past, especially in a pair of scenes where he looks completely heartbroken for utterly differing reasons, yet those expecting to see the Stath’s more typical handiwork and one-liners, as well as an interesting use for a spoon, won’t be disappointed either.
A tale of romance between a homeless ex-soldier and a nun may not seem like guaranteed summer entertainment, but Hummingbird is a solid British action thriller with a sweet centre.