It’s long been said in Hollywood that if a studio doesn’t screen a movie in advance for critics to review that usually means the studio has no faith in the movie and they expect the critics to tear it to bloody little bits. I’m not so sure about that. I think that sometimes a studio recognizes that critics just won’t get some films. Some films are as uncomplicated as a mayonnaise sandwich and those are the films that audiences will get right away. Such a film is ARMORED which shouldn’t even be called a ‘film.’ The term ‘film’ is too pretentious for this piece of work. It’s a movie, straight up and down. In fact, it’s a B-movie. The best kind of B-movie. The one that would have played on a double bill in a 42end St grindhouse back in the 70’s/80’s.
Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) is an Iraqi war veteran who has come home to tragedy and tough times. His parents are both dead and he’s raising his younger brother, a talented but troubled kid. He’s in serious financial debt and his understanding boss (Fred Ward) has only kind words to help him out when what Ty really needs is more overtime. Ty’s at a loss to figure out how to navigate his way through his problem but his best friend Mike (Matt Dillon) has a perfect solution: They’ll rob an armored car loaded full of money. Forty million dollars worth of money to be exact. A job that should be easy as pie since Ty and Mike work for an armored car company.
Ty’s not sure this idea is a good one but Mike swears nobody will get hurt. He and some of the other guards (Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich, Amaury Nolasco) have what they think is a foolproof plan. The operative word here is ‘fool’ because none of these guys are professional thieves. And considering how things soon go wrong with the heist they’d have been better off continuing to work their 9 to 5s. The heist corkscrews out of control so fast that before anybody knows exactly how it happens, there’s two dead bodies, Ty is locked inside the armored car with the money, a wounded cop (Milo Ventimiglia) and his former partners are frantically trying like hell to get in.
Watching ARMORED was nothing but pleasure for me because it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen a movie this stripped down and told in such a satisfying manner. The director isn’t trying to impress with fancy camera angles and tricks. He puts the camera down in place, puts his actors in front of it and lets them act. None of the cast is trying to win an Academy Award or steal scenes. They’re making a B-movie about a heist that goes bad and they know it and act accordingly. The screenwriter isn’t trying to be cute and clever with plot twists. He’s written a straight-up crime thriller about a bunch of guys trying to pull off a crime they simply don’t have the brains or knowledge to pull off and that’s it.
I was really impressed with the cast, all of whom are really enjoyable to watch. Matt Dillon is great to watch as his character increasingly becomes more desperate and out of control as time is running out and his crew becomes unstrung. With the exception of Jean Reno’s character who is the only one who keeps a tight rein on himself. Laurence Fishburne’s character demonstrates over and over again why it’s never a good idea to let the drunk guy hold the gun while Skeet Ulrich’s character is remarkable in that he appears to be having a continuous nervous breakdown.
Once the heist goes wrong there are parts of ARMORED that turn into a sort of black comedy as the would-be thieves frantically try to break into the armored car using methods that caused my wife Patricia to refer to them as “the five stooges” and they’re interrupted time and again by setbacks that would have made me give up and turn myself in. But those setbacks are also tearing away at the bond between these men and as happens so often in these kinds of movies, the most dangerous enemies these men have are each other
So should you see ARMORED? Absolutely. It’s a wonderful throwback to old school filmmaking where the idea was to tell a story and not show off just for the sake of showing off. It’s a very well made and well acted B-movie that is the best kind of popcorn movie: one that doesn’t waste your time, your money or insult your intelligence.
Directed by Nimrod Antal
Produced by Sam Raimi, Josh Donen and Dan Farah
Written by James V. Simpson