Hummingbird (2013)

aka Redemption

2015 #67
Steven Knight | 93 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

HummingbirdSteven Knight, the writer of Eastern Promises and Peaky Blinders — and, latterly, writer-director of “Tom Hardy driving on the phone” thriller Locke — made his directorial debut with this Jason Statham thriller that isn’t.

The Stath plays Joey, a soldier who did something terrible in Afghanistan that landed him in a mental health unit in London awaiting court martial, from which he escapes into homelessness. Running from some attackers, he stumbles into a plush flat that’s vacant for the summer. Using his ‘borrowed’ wealth, he strikes up a friendship with Cristina (Agata Buzek), the nun who runs his old soup kitchen, gets a job with Chinese gangsters, and sets about finding out what happened to his friend from the street.

Outlined as just a plot, Hummingbird might sound like your standard Statham action-thriller. It really isn’t. Knight’s focus is primarily on the relationship between Joey and Cristina, two people who are both lost, struggling with events from their past, trying to help people, in search of something. It’s a bigger acting challenge than Statham usually has to face. To be honest, he’s probably not wholly up to the task, but he makes a good fist of it. Buzek has a more striking arc, in some respects, and navigates it subtly but successfully. The crime storyline, in particular Joey’s investigations into the fate of his friend, are a frame on which to hang the development of these people.

Sad StathamThe film’s problem, perhaps, is that it slips a little between two stools. It’s certainly not action-packed enough to appeal to a good deal of Statham’s fanbase — the one or two instances of him kicking ass are very much asides. On the flipside, it may not commit to the character drama fully enough to satiate the needs of that kind of viewer. However, for anyone at peace with those two apparently-disparate styles — like, well, me — Hummingbird will be a more satisfying experience.

4 out of 5

Cathy Come Home (1966)

2008 #59
Ken Loach | 77 mins | DVD | PG

Cathy Come HomeTechnically a one-off TV drama from the BBC’s Wednesday Play strand, Cathy Come Home more than deserves consideration as a film in its own right, due to it being an early work of director Ken Loach, the fact that it’s shot largely on film using relatively experimental storytelling techniques, and also considering the huge social impact it had.

The piece tells the story of Cathy, a young woman who leaves behind a comfortable life for the excitement of the big city. There she falls in love with Reg, who she marries and has children with. But, through a series of incidents and accidents — most of them no fault of their own — Cathy, Reg and the children wind up without a house, and then gradually slide down the scale toward homelessness. In this respect the film can remind us of a facet of the ‘good old days’ that is often overlooked when our collective memory of the ’60s is made up of James Bond, the Beatles, and programmes like Mad Men. The drama also had a big impact at the time: 12 million watched, it boosted the newly-formed charity Shelter, led to debates in parliament, and, eventually, changes to the law.

Loach structures the film cleverly: Cathy and Reg’s slide into poverty is all too believable, while at the same time allowing the viewer to see a cross section of the homeless experience. He employs a documentary style throughout, so effectively that it still fools some into believing the whole piece is factual. In fact there’s a mix of interviews with those really suffering such situations, and performed scenes that are shot and cut disjointedly, as if they were observed rather than written. While some of the performances give the game away, they’re never poor enough to really detract. The downside of this style is that the storyline isn’t always clear. I’m still not sure if it was Cathy’s children that died in the caravan fire or someone else’s, just one among a few such examples. While ambiguity is no bad thing — the cruelly unresolved ending being a case in point — it sometimes just seems like a hole in the narrative. However, these moments are relatively minor, and certainly don’t dint the film’s impact.

Cathy Come Home is a powerful piece of work; an undoubted television classic that (bar a few technically-incongruous studio scenes shot on video) wouldn’t look out of place on a big screen. As an important and timely history lesson, a challenge to prejudices that some of us may hold, and a reminder of how close most of us are to such a fate — especially right now — it remains essential viewing. Sadly, I suspect it always will.

5 out of 5