Blitz (2011)

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“A cross between hockey and murder!”
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UK, France, US / 97 minutes / color / Davis, Current, Kushner/Wyman, Metropolitan, Lionsgate UK Dir: Elliott Lester Pr: Zygi Kamasa, Steven Chasman, Donald Kushner, Brad Wyman Scr: Nathan Parker Story: Blitz (2002) by Ken Bruen Cine: Rob Hardy Cast: Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, Aidan Gillen, Zawe Ashton, David Morrissey, Ned Dennehy, Mark Rylance, Luke Evans, Nicky Henson, Steven Harwood-Brown, Ellie Fairman, Nabil Elouahabi, Joe Dempsie, Christina Cole, Martina Laird.

A relatively recent movie that’s an adaptation of a Ken Bruen novel is definitely something of interest to this site—especially since in the past months I seem to have been covering preponderantly vintage movies rather than the usual mixture of ancient and modern.

I should tell you at the outset that Blitz is probably not a movie to watch with your mom. (Yes, yes, I know, I know, your mom is the exception that proves the rule. But my mom would have had a fit.) The profanity’s ubiquitous—there’s plenty of the F word, the C word and just about every other type of word you can think of except the Guardian cryptic crossword. The sexual references are pretty prolific, too, although there’s no actual sex unless you’re really, really into violence.

Mark Rylance as Chief Inspector Bruce Roberts.

Brant is a Sarf East London maverick cop—which is to say, at least within the terms of this fiction, that he’s a cop who has severe anger-management problems and habitually uses brutality to solve, as he sees it, society’s problems—the Met’s very own John Bolton, in other words. In the opening moments we see him tackling three thugs who’re trying to break into a car:

“This, lads, is a hurler [hurley stick]. Used in the Irish game of hurley. A cross between hockey and murder.”

He proceeds to beat them senseless with the hurley stick. We know the kids are indeed thugs, not just because they’re armed with carpet knives but because they swear a lot—selfconsciously so, in fact, as if worried that their moms might be watching the movie. This isn’t to say that Brant objects to their language—everyone in this movie, moms included, uses much the same vocabulary and “heavens to Betsy” isn’t a part of it.

Nicky Henson as Superintendent Brown.

There’s a bit of a fuss about the three “innocents” having been beaten up by an off-duty copper, and Brant’s superior, Superintendent Brown (Henson), tells him to keep a low profile for a while. And we’re reassured that Brant has a heart of gold because he’s the friend to whom DC Elizabeth Falls (Ashton) turns for reassurance when she fails her sergeants exam. More than that, he’s the sole mourner alongside DCI Bruce Roberts (Rylance) at the cremation of Roberts’s late wife Fiona; the two then go on a pub crawl together and lose the urn containing Fiona . . .

Someone begins to murder cops, starting with WPC Sandra Bates (Fairman) and PC Theo Nelson (Dempsie).

Ellie Fairman (or is it Porter Girl?) as WPC Sandra Bates, the first cop to be killed by Blitz.

Despite his earlier admonition about Brant keeping a low profile, Superintendent Brown assigns him to the case alongside Acting DI Porter Nash (Considine), who’s a bit of a pariah around the cop shop not because he’s been drafted in from West London but because he’s gay. Brant soon makes it plain that he doesn’t give a monkey’s about Nash’s gender identification: he respects Nash as a good cop, and that’s all that matters.

Paddy Considine as Sergeant Porter Nash.

One wishes the movie itself could have the same attitude, because it seems the only way, aside from swearing a lot, that Nash can show us that, for all his gayness, he’s as much of a man as Brant is by telling the tale of how he once bashed in a predatory pedophile’s testicles with a baseball bat, “and they fucking popped.” So we’re supposed to equate the infliction of grievous bodily harm with virility, hm?

Jason Statham as Brant.

With the help of a witness, Anthony (Elouahabi), it doesn’t take long for Brant and Nash to work out who’s killing their fellow-officers: Barry Weiss (Gillen), whom Brant hospitalized a year or so ago when he—Weiss—went on the rampage in a billiards hall with a crowbar (which sounds dissonantly like something out of Clue/Cluedo, but there you go). It takes a bit longer to work out why, though Brant eventually manages it with the help of an unnamed WPC (Cole) who knows how to use computers, a skill Brant himself is too manly to have acquired.

Jason Statham as Brant and Christina Cole as the unnamed WPC who saves his technological bacon.

(It seems to be further laddishness that Cole, who has a small but by no means negligible role and is very good in it, is buried right at the bottom of the credits, below all kinds of actors who’re basically extras.)

Aidan Gillen as Barry Weiss.

By this time Weiss has, inevitably, started phoning a prominent tabloid journalist, Harold Dunlop (Morrissey), because that’s what psychos in movies often do. He’s also given himself a nickname, Blitz, and escalated his game. For his first two cop murders he used a gun, but now . . .

Weiss (on phone): “Oh. I used a new system.”
Dunlop: “A new system? Can you be a bit clearer?”
Weiss: “I pulverized the fucker with a hammer. That clear enough for ya?”

David Morrissey as Harold Dunlop.

And so the movie lurches dismally on in its effing and blinding manner. There’s a great supporting performance from Ned Dennehy as an erratic snitch, Radnor, who thinks he has his eye on the main chance but doesn’t. There’s a plot thread that’s simply abandoned (Brant has been suffering blackouts), but another plot thread that seems for most of the movie’s first half to be completely unrelated to the main story (DC Falls has been befriended by a little thug, John “Metal” Wales [Harwood-Brown], and approaches DI Craig Stokes [Evans] to sort out a problem for him) ends up being very neatly tied in. The impression is that this movie is just a single part of an uncompleted story arc. I don’t know if the intention was to make more Brant movies, or even if the project started out with the aim of making a sort of Lynda La Plante-style series of TV movies.

Ned Dennehy as Radnor.

The morals of Blitz are, as noted, deplorable. In a quite superb portrayal of a psychopath, Gillen plays the part of Weiss admirably as an inadequate yet cocky little onanist—à la Barry Foster in Hitchcock’s late movie FRENZY (1972) but more so—set to try to make himself appear far more important than he actually is. For some reason, the movie seems to be trying to tell us, Weiss’s violence is destructive whereas that of Nash and Brant is wholesome. Perhaps police thuggishness is to be approved of because it supports the status quo, the comfort of the already comfortable? If so, its ironic that it’s prime proponent here is the cop portrayed as the epitome of the maverick, the man least concerned with and readily willing to upset that very same status quo. It’s a moral question that this movie, and too many others like it, insouciantly dodges. Cops who “take the law into their own hands” are, like lynch mobs, far more undermining of the society they’re supposed to uphold than the occasional guilty party walking free. (For a fictional exploration of this theme, try the RED RIDING [2009] trilogy of movies, adapting David Peace’s Red Riding quartet of novels based on all-too-unfortunate reality.)

Idolization of such cops serves the same purpose. By the end of the movie Brant and Nash aren’t heroic mavericks, Robin Hood figures acting outside the law for the sake of the public weal: they’re murderers.

Zawe Ashton as WPC Elizabeth Falls.

But the other message of the movie seems more plausible: that we’re none of us unalloyed characters, simply good or simply evil (Weiss maybe excepted). DC Falls is a thoroughly appealing individual yet has had and, it proves, still does have her difficulties with self-destructive substances and is willing to pervert the law to shield a friend from the consequences of his criminal actions. That friend, her little pal Metal, is prepared to risk his life for her—the hallmark of friendship—yet is also a racist skinhead who beats up Asians, perhaps unto death. And then there’s DI Roberts, who returns to police duty almost immediately after the cremation of his wife not through any great sense of duty but simply to get away from the incipient alcoholism that awaits him should he continue to stay at home. Next, DI Stokes is seemingly a good, straight-arrow cop except that he’s willing to cover up Metal’s crime in hopes of beginning a relationship with the delectable DC Falls. And so on.

Steven Harwood-Brown as Metal.

(To be fair, there’s an implication that it was the extreme violence with which Brant tackled Weiss in the pool hall that inspired Weiss to start his jihad against cops. Maybe the movie is indeed suggesting that legally condoned violence merely encourages further violence. If that’s supposed to be the message, it’s not exactly clear.)

A lot of the above concern about unknitted plot strands probably comes from the fact that the movie’s based on a Ken Bruen novel that’s part of a series (it’s #4 of Bruen’s “Detective Sergeant Tom Brant and Chief Inspector James Roberts” novels). Even though that series is a noirish one, it still apparently subscribes to the modern notion that no crime-fiction series is complete unless it’s a soap opera too. Robert Parker’s Spenser series was better than endurable despite this, and the admirable (and sadly lamented, in this household) Sue Barker’s Kinsey Milhone series likewise; I’ve no idea if Bruen’s Brant series is another because I’ve read just one of them. A movie that adapts just one novel of a series perhaps inevitably leaves story arcs adrift mid-arc.

Luke Evans as Inspector Craig Stokes.

And again: I’m fine with the idea that we’re none of us perfect, but I also think it’s possible to be imperfect at the same time as not murdering criminal suspects, no matter how sure you are that they’re guilty. What next, if you do that? Hey, you could find yourself starting to gun down unarmed black kids on the basis of their skin color.

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