It’s taken a while to decide on an actor to focus a Film Club on, and with The Meg now in cinemas, I got to discussing English actor Jason Statham, the film’s lead, with a friend. During the discussion, I realised I’d not seen any Statham film (I know, I know. I’m paying penance in many ways, I’m certain). Statham is practically a national treasure, not always featured in the most critically acclaimed of movies, but often providing plenty of simple entertainment through his stunts and perfectly crafted tone of voice, or so I hear. I don’t really expect much from him or his movies, and after seeing The Meg I am still of that school of thought, though I am intrigued to see what it is that makes him an apparently bankable star and keeps people flocking to his movies.
The Mechanic (2011)
First up is a film that pretty much stereotypes the Statham I am aware of. The first line of dialogue isn’t spoken until six minutes in, and it’s an explanation of what it is the character does overlaid with a piano concerto. Bit of a different start to a Statham movie than I’d have expected, I suppose; a nicer moment before returning to a Bond-esque guitar. I like that Statham doesn’t adopt an American accent in this despite being surrounded by Americans. Bit of a rarity. I was expecting much more action from him but Ben Foster takes most of the glory, even if they’re not the most well-choreographed of sequences. Statham still steals the show with his understated performance, Bishop being so remorseless and basically a full-blown sociopath: full of ridiculous yet too easily relatable one-liners (“Vengeance is the mission”, “Good judgment comes from experience, which usually comes from bad judgement”). Also a great finale. I’m intrigued to know more about Bishop, but not all that bothered about watching Mechanic: Resurrection. Statham does his best in a film that goes a bit too over the top and gets confusing at times. I think he can do better.
In all honesty, this is not a film I’ve ever been interested in seeing, nor would I have been interested if it weren’t for doing this Jason Statham write-up. It strikes me, even before seeing it, as a very “masculine” film: guns, gangs, cars, drugs, objectified women. None of it really interests me. On watching it, I can see why many find it entertaining: it’s fast-paced, the stunt work is pretty awesome and the dialogue, whilst corny at times, is fairly sharp, at least from the Stath. The cinematography is reminiscent of Trainspotting and other such British movies (though it’s an American-made movie) that involve the hedonistic side of drugs, though there is little hedonism to be found from Chev, Statham’s character. Parts of the film are just utterly ridiculous (a car chase through a shopping mall with the car ending up sideways on an escalator? Ok.) And Statham? Well, actually, his performance is really enjoyable with that familiar understated voice and antihero scowl. I do, however, still think he’s worth more as an actor. He shows promise, which is ironic when I seem to be reversing through his filmography…
The Transporter (2002)
Now we’re seeing Action Stath come to the fore, and man does he kick some ass, definitely giving Tom Cruise a run for his money in the stunt stakes. At one point he’s even got his shirt off and kicking the crap out of some goons, all in a very Bruce Lee manner. You can tell this was a Luc Besson screenplay, with the similarties to Leon and The Fifth Element – male antihero lead, female with a muddied past needs and/or wants his protection and plenty of imagination. Statham does just as good a job, if not a little better in my opinion, than that of Bruce Willis, though he’s not quite up there with Jean Reno. He’s making his mark on me as an action antihero, though I suspect here is where he might have peaked. Stath is epic overall, his only real let down being the very confuddled accent (sounds like his regular accent but with the odd word stressed with an American accent? No idea).
First (or second, chronologically) of the two Guy Ritchie films featuring Statham. In this one he goes proper cockney as boxing promoter Turkish, which is actually quite nice to hear, as it works well for the very British humour and it suits him. Apparently Statham was unsure about doing Crank because he didn’t feel he had the comic chops for the dialogue – Snatch says otherwise, utilising Statham for more than just his burlyness, though I suppose comedy differs slightly between British-written and American-written scripts. He also narrates the whole thing, his voice working very well. I’d listen to his cockney audiobooks. This is pre-action man, pre-antihero Statham, still finding his feet in feature films, but finding himself as an actor of worth.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Not a big fan of this, I will admit, and on my head be it. It’s very dialogue heavy, which wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a few different storylines to muddle through. A lot of people say Snatch is a lesser Lock, Stock… but I disagree. Not only was Guy Ritchie finding his feet with this, his first written and directed feature film, this was also Statham’s first foray into film (along with a lot of other people involved), so I would say Snatch is more a refinement of the same kind of thing. I can see why it’s a classic in its genre, and it’s certainly worth watching, but sorry-not-sorry, it’s just not my thing. Statham is really hardly in it, so it would be difficult to give him a rounded view performance-wise, but what we do see of him after his semi-decent opening scene is disappointing. If I’d watched Lock, Stock… first I’d probably be very worried about what I’d see in the next few films, regarding Statham’s abilities as a performer, but luckily I do know the Stath improves.
I don’t know why I ended up watching these films in reverse chronological order, it just kind of happened that way. But I’m glad it did. I got a taste of Stath from Bishop in The Mechanic, given a decent appetiser from Chev in Crank, scoffed the main course from Frank in The Transporter, got a palette cleanser from Turkish in Snatch, then admittedly skipped dessert and went straight home thanks to Bacon in Lock, Stock…. Overall, I very much enjoy Jason Statham, though his movies might not always be my cup of tea, and I can see why audiences follow him to his movies. Generally speaking, he won’t let you down on that much-mentioned antihero front, and when his British comedy lapses into more serious American-made scowling action man roles, you can pretty much count on him to make you chuckle if the comedy is reintroduced. He can play it dry, even when he’s swimming with a Megalodon. I approve.
Other noted works:
The Italian Job (2003)
Transporter 2 (2005)
Death Race (2008)
Transporter 3 (2008)
Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
The Expendables (2010)
The Expendables 2 (2012)
The Expendables 3 (2014)
Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)
Fast & Furious 8 (2017)