Fair warning: this is not the Jason Statham actioner you might expect from the star, or the trailer, or the title. All of the titles: originally titled Hummingbird in the UK (slang for military grunt), it became the revenge-themed-titled Redemption in the US. Here in the Czech Republic, it’s called Crazy Joe. It’s not any of those movies, either.
Instead, Redemption is a somber drama about Joseph Jones (Statham), an ex-Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan and now survives on the streets of London after deserting the military. Barely-coherent desert war flashbacks hint at carnage that pushed Jones over the edge, though we’re not sure if he was a witness to, or perpetrator of, the violence.
Now, he’s an alcoholic who lives in a cardboard box with a drug addict (Victoria Bewick). Jones is given an unlikely chance to turn things around after an incident with a pair of “tax collectors” (is there really much business to be made collecting drugs and money from the homeless?) sees him land (literally) in a vacant top-floor apartment suite.
The apartment belongs to a gay fashion designer who, we conveniently learn from an answering machine recording, is in New York until October. Pro tip: don’t be too specific regarding your whereabouts in an answering machine message, lest the squatter who has broken in knows exactly how long he can stay there. And no need to set the alarm in your luxurious central London flat when you take off for six months.
Posing as a boyfriend, Jones begins to get his life back on track: borrowing the owner’s car and validating a credit card that comes in the mail, he sorts out food and clothes and even gets himself a new job, working as an enforcer for the Chinese mafia. Ah, you think, here’s where the Statham action will kick in. Nope.
An unlikely romantic interest surfaces in the form of a nun played by Agata Buzek, who serves food to the local destitute at the church. Jones gives her some money in the form of a drunken donation, orders some pizzas for the homeless, and… buys her a pretty red dress? We start to wonder where, exactly, he expects this to go.
Redemption is pretty serious stuff; deadly serious. There isn’t an ounce of relief during the film, which might be commendable – it certainly maintains a consistent tone – but the material seems so inherently silly. You expect a certain kind of film going in, and you expect a certain kind of film to match this story – a contrivance-based revenge thriller with a nun romance subplot – but Redemption beats you over the head with artistic self-importance from beginning to end.
The problem is, it’s impossible to take this seriously; I found myself letting out audible gasps of laughter more than once throughout the movie. I was so thrown by Redemption after the first viewing that I actually watched it all again; there’s certainly something deeper meaning going on here. I was no less enlightened the second time around.
Redemption was written and directed by Steven Knight, making his feature directing debut; he previously wrote Dirty Pretty Things for Steven Frears and Eastern Promises for David Cronenberg. Both of those features, which were also set amongst the London underworld, had something that Redemption is sorely lacking: a sense of self-awareness that allowed the audience to get involved in the story – and actually have some fun.