On the run from a military court martial, ex-Special Forces soldier Joey Jones (Jason Statham) finds himself homeless on the streets of London. Breaking into a penthouse apartment, he assumes the identity of the wealthy absent owner and, spurred on by the suspicious death of a close friend, decides to take on the city’s criminal underworld. As he becomes more deeply embroiled in the hidden horrors of city life, Joey’s only real redemption comes in the form of kindly nun Cristina (Agata Buzek).
While Chris Menges stunning cinematography, which paints London is shades of neon and shadow, makes the film visually arresting, the rest of the film is rather more murky. The narrative is drawn entirely in broad strokes and urban clichés; a surprise and a disappointment considering it’s written (and directed) by Steven Knight, the screenwriter behind the far superior Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. Here, the capital is given the same treatment that befell New York in previous Statham movie Safe; the city is no longer an exciting, enthralling melting pot of cultures but a heartless, seething mass of corruption, brutality and despair. While Safe was colourful and energetic enough to overcome this conceit, however, Hummingbird wallows in the mire.
True, Statham is his usual solid self, playing his usual role —the brute with the heart of gold—and doing his best to grapple with the more psychological aspects of the character, but he isn’t given much to work with. Joey suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome but, aside from occasional aural flashbacks and the hummingbirds he sees in his mind’s eye, there isn’t anything that distinguishes this character from the myriad avenging angels Statham’s played before. While the intent may be that Joey is attempting to make amends for the cruelties of war by bringing his own form of justice to a corrupt city—as evidenced by the film’s US title, Redemption—this isn’t explored much beyond the visual tropes mentioned above. Similarly, while the film may be set amongst London’s homeless community, this is more a narrative conceit than a social comment.
Aside from Joey, everyone else on screen, from the Chinese mafia who rule the city’s underbelly to the men who traffic women for sex, are hollow outlines, two-dimensional plot points that exist purely as narrative markers along Joey’s journey. It’s the women of the film, however, who suffer the most shocking treatment. That every female Joey encounters is, in effect, a damsel in distress, in need of rescue—as true for the sharply dressed mafia boss as it is for his ill-fated, helpless homeless friend Isabel (Victoria Bewick)—is irritating but, given the nature of the story, entirely unsurprising.
What is rather more difficult to swallow is that, in Hummingbird’s world, every woman is grouped into one of two categories; the virgins and the whores. On one side there is the cut-throat, murderous mafia matriarch, the prostitutes and the sex slaves (even Joey’s ex-wife pays her rent with sexual favours); on the other there are the benign sisters of the convent, most predominantly placid, innocent nun Cristina. Potentially an interesting character—she is coping with a crisis of faith—and played with spirit by Buzek, Dawn soon descends into implausible cliché, losing all sense of her own identity to become both a salve and a seduction (yes, really) for Joey. By the time she loosens her habit, lets down her hair and dons a tight red dress—a gift from Joey, of course—her transformation into a scarlet woman is complete; it just takes an awkward kiss outside a grimy pub to (almost) undo her completely. And while the relationship never develops, and Cristina ultimately reconnects with her faith, tellingly it’s Joey who makes the decision to save her from himself.
It would be fair to say that the male characters also don’t fair very well; every man (apart from Joey) is either a homeless drifter, a drug addict, a violent criminal, a rapist or worse. But while they are only seen briefly, and in shadow, the female characters are held up to the light in all their objectified glory. True, Hummingbird‘s narrative doesn’t run deep, but the fact that it’s set up as a gritty crime thriller, with a ludicrous story at its heart, doesn’t excuse the raging gender stereotypes that prove impossible to ignore.