Hummingbird is a British thriller starring Jason Statham which may be all you need to know to keep away and if it is, can’t say I blame you. Statham is the actor who rose to fame as one of Guy Ritchie’s entourage and now plays bad-ass, hard-boiled action heroes of the kind who can take on whole armies and crack open all their heads and emerge breathless, admittedly, yet with only one small graze. I normally avoid his films and films of this type as they are just not my thing — you’d think anyone who could take on whole armies and emerge with just a single graze would be interesting, but not so much — yet I was seduced into giving it a shot. It looked promising.
It’s more a character study than a mindless action flick, I was told, and a departure for Statham. Plus, it’s the directorial debut of Steven Knight, the writer whose scripts for Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things have rightly won awards and acclaim. Does it succeed? Not especially, plus it contains lines like: ‘You tell me what happened to her, or I’m going to kill you with this spoon.’ If there has to be violence, I actually don’t mind the odd spoon-killing, but that’s about as positive as I can be.
The story: Statham is Joey Smith, a homeless, alcoholic ex-soldier who is living on the streets of London. He has served in Afghanistan, and was traumatised by events there, as shown in flashbacks that flash back quite often, just so we know. Anyway, after a violent incident — very, I’m afraid — he flees the street and breaks into an empty penthouse. On discovering the owner will be away for a few months, he assumes his identity and has one of those epiphanies whereby he gives up the vodka and decides to get his life back on track. He finds a job washing pots in a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown and after dealing with some unruly diners — takes on six of them, cracks their heads open — ends up working for local Chinese gangsters, cracking yet more heads.
Meanwhile, he is developing a relationship with Cristina (Agata Buzek), the Polish nun who feeds the homeless in Soho every night and has her own traumas, also told in flashbacks that flash back. The two grow close and he buys her a sexy red dress. However, when she puts on the sexy red dress and takes down her hair and removes her glasses, as she inevitably does, she is actually nothing special. Quite plain, actually. OK, I’m toying with you. She’s beautiful. He is gobsmacked. But, you know, once, just once in my life, I would like a woman in a film to let down her hair and take off her glasses and not have anyone go: ‘Wow! Who knew?’ It’s a dream of mine. (My dreams are quite modest.)
Oh god, I forgot Isabel! And she’s meant to be so central! Joey shared a cardboard box with Isabel when he lived on the street and now she has disappeared, and he is determined to hunt her down. This is even the main thrust of the narrative; the ‘thriller’ part, if you like. But as we only glimpse Isabel a couple of times we can’t care about her, and can’t care about what has happened to her, and if he wishes to threaten to kill someone with a spoon to discover her whereabouts, fine, we’re just not bothered.
However, the worst thing in all this is that it is just all over the place, morally. In America, the film has been released as Redemption, but are we meant to believe Joey has turned good? Even though he still cracks heads? Even though he gets involved with human trafficking and has an ex-wife (Vicky McClure, who only has about two minutes’ screen time, alas) and a young daughter whom he hasn’t seen in years and hasn’t supported? True, he gives his money to good causes, but are we meant to not worry how he got that money? Weird. And the directing doesn’t help, being chunky — here’s an action chunk; here’s a character chunk; here’s another action chunk — without threading it together, and Statham? He is one of those actors who has a particular style, but that style does not include indicating any kind of interior life. So he can’t bring us on side. Or make us feel for him. He’s just a big lump of macho who gets his way via violence that is sometimes cutlery-based, and sometimes isn’t.
This is a film that wants to be more than a mindless action flick and it tries, desperately, but just can’t deliver. A pity, although it does prove your first instinct was right: a British thriller starring Jason Statham is all you need to know.