Statham's best acting turn, but the shifting tones of this drama lets the side down.
Apparently Hummingbird is called Redemption in other parts of the world, which shows both a disturbing lack of trust in an audience's willingness not to dismiss a film based on a very, very mildly esoteric title and a puzzling effort to also mislead them, unless these days the path to redemption is based on staving heads in. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.
We join Joey (Jason Statham) as a down and out drunk on London's mean streets, apparently sharing a semi-detached box with Dawn (Vicky McClure). When a couple of thugs come round, apparently with the ill-thought out strategy of mugging homeless people, escalates into what seems like an impending rape, Joey fights back, and takes a bit of a beating for his efforts. Scarpering, he shakes off his aggressors by stumbling up fire escapes, across rooftops and into a penthouse apartment, or top floor flat as we call them in Britain.
In a stroke of luck, the owner of the flat won't be back for six months, and Joey takes the opportunity to get his life back together. For given values of "together". In this instance it means quitting the booze, shaving off his hilarious straggly hair and "borrowing" some suspiciously closely tailored suits from his unsuspecting host and, after a short stint in a Chinese restaurant where his unique set of skills are unwittingly uncovered, becoming an enforcer for the local branch of Triad, Triad, Triad and Sons, Legitimate Business Incorporated.
Over the course of the piece we uncover why Joey's so troubled, his traumatic past as a soldier in the Iraq war haunting him. He also starts saving up his entirely legitimately earned cash from his honest, respectable job to support his long estranged wife and daughter, and also to help out some of his friends from the street. A particular focus for this is a nun, Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), who runs the nightly soup kitchens and becomes something of an unusual love interest in the film.
Given the overarching grimness of the tone, it's not much of a surprise to discover Cristina has her own skeletons rattling around in her cupboards, however the main event that drives the narrative towards a conveniently synchronous conclusion comes from Joey finally tracking down what happened to Dawn, who was "encouraged" to become a prostitute and fell victim to a notoriously violent city-boy client who went a little too far. Joey swears vengeance, which doesn't seem very redemption-y to me.
For me, Hummingbird's main problem isn't what it does badly, which is perhaps only the odd bit of clunky dialogue and delivery, it's the things that it does well. It just does two things in particular well that serve mutually exclusive aims.
The world Joey finds himself in is necessarily bleak, grim and occasionally upsetting, and for a lot of this time director Steven Knight wrings a pretty decent bleak, hopeless tone from the material.
The problem with that is the contrast that seems to have been forced on the film due to Jason Statham being the lead actor. To be clear, this isn't stunt casting, as he's more than capable of holding the dramatic and emotional tones asked of him. In fact, he probably delivers more than the script credits him for. The problem is more with the perceived need to show Statham as a dangerous man by having him get into cool-looking, Statham-esque one vs. many fights, which it does pretty well, but at the cost of creating an entirely different mood that is much less conducive to sympathising with the characters struggle.
Well, I say struggle. Thing is, other than one slightly weird hallucinatory hummingbird interlude, Joey doesn't really seem to have all that much of a struggle, at least after kicking the booze. He makes some attempt at justifying that he was keeping himself sozzled in order to avoid hurting people, but when off the sauce he seems perfectly capable of controlling himself. It's not, as it turns out, something that has a major impact on the story, which is weird in and of itself.
For something that seems to want to be more concerned with Joey's mental struggles with coming to terms with his past, it spends far too much time showing him kicking arse in the present, to the point of becoming more of a revenge fantasy than the serious drama it's pushed as. Which is something of a shame, as I suspect it'd make a stronger straight up drama than it makes drama with Statham fan-pleasing punch-ups shoehorned in.
Structural and tonal anomalies aside, at least the film does, in the main, does find a reasonable level of success, in the main because Jason Statham's an terrifically likable screen presence. So, from a certain point of view, Statham's presence is both the main weakness and greatest strength of the film. Which seems unusually fitting with the contents of the film. Very zen.
Agata Buzek (Cristina)
Vicky McClure (Dawn)
Benedict Wong (Mr. Choy)