Talking Movies

May 24, 2012

Better Safe than Statham

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 5:22 pm
Tags: , ,

Does Safe represent the start of a push by Jason Statham to broaden his acting range by appearing in a film that’s decidedly more thriller than it is an action?
 
Writer and director Boaz Yakin, who also scripted and lensed Remember the Titans, certainly seems to have ambitions that don’t fit with the State’s usual mindless fun. The opening of Safe deploys a structure I can’t recall encountering anywhere else other than Tom Stoppard’s radio-play Artist Descending a Staircase – a boomeranging back in time and then returning to the present, albeit done with a good deal less intelligence and rigour than Stoppard displayed. If Statham is quite deliberately playing a character who is more emotional and vulnerable than his usual persona, then these opening flashbacks are a good deal more complicated than the usual ‘2 days previously’ that might be used as a noirish hook to an overly dramatic high-stakes start. Yakin though ends up with less of a noir feel than sheer confusion as he tries to blast through two backstories in flashback before linking them up ‘where we came in’.
 
Statham plays Luke Wright, a cage fighter in Jersey who accidentally pulverises an opponent in a fight he was supposed to throw, and is punished by the Russian mob; who execute his pregnant wife and hope to drive him to suicide by promising to kill anyone he establishes any sort of friendship with in the future. A year later Luke is about to jump in front of a subway train after the Russians have ruthlessly made good on their word when he spots Mei (Catherine Chan) being chased by the same gangsters. Mei who we have met first being terrorised by the Russians, was originally abducted by the Triads in Nanjing, and sent to America by Han Jiao (James Hong) to do the book-keeping for him mentally using her prodigious math abilities. In the present she has been entrusted with a new number by Jiao but has been abducted from her adoptive father Chang (Reggie Lee) by the Russians, who want that number. When she escapes, courtesy of some unintentional help by the corrupt NYC captain in charge of SWAT (John Lee Burke), she runs straight into Luke’s path…
 
Safe isn’t nearly absurd enough for the usual Statham thrills. It has a very complicated plot, which is only disclosed at a late stage; and really does try to emulate NYC crime thrillers of the 1970s rather than Luc Besson’s 2000s nonsense actions. This tension is never quite resolved. There is a nicely staged subway attack during which Statham delivers one of his greatest ever action one-liners in killing off a Russian mobster who’s aghast that a garbage-man should have such skills: “You had bad information; I never collected garbage, I disposed of it.” Similarly when Chris Sarandon mutters at Statham “You’ve got some balls” only to be met with “Yeah, I’m amazed I can walk,” we’re defiantly in Besson-land. Yet at the same time we have Hal Hartley regular John Lee Burke as the corrupt NYPD captain and some noticeably arty action sequences. There is an assault on a car composed as a long-take reminiscent of Cuaron’s Children of Men, and another subsequent attack involving great tricks with wing mirrors and rear view mirrors as the camera plays around with locating and hiding characters in the mayhem, as well as a showy long-take where Statham arrives.
 
Can Jason Statham break out of the action ghetto? Perhaps, but I think he’s more likely to do so by appearing in a film which is entirely devoid of chop-socky fights and devoted to showcasing his acting chops than by doing compromise pieces like Safe.

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