Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Not a documentary about our resistance to the might of the Luftwaffe, then. Or indeed about the Eighties nightclub that played host to Boy George and friends. But it does boast a leading man who’s fast becoming another icon of Britishness: Jason Statham.

One of the more interesting splinters of the ‘geezer chic’ film explosion has been the former Olympic diver and male model’s progress from supporting stalwart in the Guy Ritchie repertory company to bona fide international action hero – a status cemented by his ensemble appearance in the Stallone testosterone-fest The Expendables.

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One might be tempted to see his starring role in Lester’s London-set police thriller as an attempt to broaden his range against the day when the offers to do Cranksporter 12 dry up by trying something more, shall we say, thoughtful. Unfortunately, Blitz squanders a solid premise and some ambitious touches by defaulting to a subtlety-free piece of vigilante porn.

Statham plays Brant, a detective at an East London station whose first appearance - waking from a fully-clothed sleep on the sofa to down a tea mug full of whisky - couldn’t signal ‘maverick loner’ more clearly if he had it tattooed on his forehead.

His repose has been disturbed by a trio of hoodies trying to break into a car. Clearly taking David Cameron’s wish for the police not to get too bogged down in paperwork to heart, he dispenses instant justice with the aid of a hurling stick. The resulting outcry, marshalled by tabloid hack Harold Dunlop (Morrissey), lands him in hot water with the station bosses.

But a serial killer (the ‘Blitz’ of the title) has started to target police officers and Brant’s underworld connections and strong-arm methods of extracting information are urgently required. As a moderating influence, he’s teamed with uptight, upright partner Porter Nash (Considine); an openly gay, by-the book ideas and details man.

You might find this hard to believe, but after some initial hostility the two mismatched cops find that they’re both committed to seeing justice done and end up respecting each other. Who’d have thought, eh? Brant’s also having trouble with uniformed colleague WPC Falls (Ashton), who’s just come out of rehab and wants his help in trying to keep her life and career together. Meanwhile, the psycho continues with his spree, weaving Dunlop into the web with a series of teasing phone calls offering a scoop. And it soon becomes clear that he has past history with Falls – and Brant himself...

Lester and writer Parker (a long way from the cerebral introspection of Moon) want the film to be too many things at the same time – serial killer thriller, buddy-cop drama, ‘state of the nation’ parable and ‘life on the precinct’ ensemble piece; it’s based on one of a series of books by Irish author Ken Bruen in which several characters recur. As a result, it veers off in several different directions, resulting in awkward shifts of tone and a lack of momentum.

What they seem to be striving for most is the impact of Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, which pitted two equally implacable opposites against each other. Siegel sharply and tellingly played up the similarities of Eastwood’s rule-defying cop and Andrew Robinson’s anarchic psycho, but there’s no such subtlety here.

Like Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown, or Nick Love’s Outlaw the good guys are basically good, the bad guys are obviously bad and the world (or Britain, at least) would be a better place if the former could beat the living daylights out of the latter without the lawyers, the press and the suits upstairs wagging their fingers at them. You don’t have to be a card-carrying wet liberal to find that attitude suspect – and cinematically very over-familiar.

It’s even more of a shame because the film has some undoubted visual flair – an atmospheric police funeral in the pouring rain; a pulse-racing chase across the Westway – and a sense of the clannish locker-room culture of a London nick. The supporting cast are ludicrously over-qualified too; as well as Considine and Morrissey there are cracking turns from Mark Rylance as Brant’s disillusioned mentor and Nicky Henson as the time-serving but shrewd station chief.

And Gillen as the psycho is almost worth the price of admission alone. Lean and strung-out, as chippy and verbal as a star turn on the Jeremy Kyle Show but with a chilling indifference to the rest of humanity. It may not be the most subtle portrayal of violent insanity you’ll ever see (how he manages to stay unnoticed by the police for the best part of the film is beyond belief) but it’s one of the most guiltily entertaining.

All this however, only highlights the fact that this isn’t a great leap forward in the acting stakes for Statham. He looks as menacing as ever and suitably convincing in the action scenes (at least there’s a notable absence of villains coming for him with garage implements one at a time), but totally fails to expand a two-dimensional character.

Eventually the thump-thump soundtrack, would-be hard-boiled dialogue and in-your-face chunks of violence become wearily repetitive, and the plot twists progressively more ludicrous. Any attempts to turn Brant into a franchise would be well advised to dial it down a notch, concentrate more on the day-to-day than the OTT – and tell the Stath that you’re allowed more than one facial expression when acting.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2011
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Blitz packshot
A troubled, uncompromising detective tracks a serial killer targeting police officers.
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Director: Elliott Lester

Writer: Nathan Parker

Starring: Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, Zawe Ashton, David Morrissey, Aidan Gillen

Year: 2011

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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