Before you aggressively stab the ‘back’ button on your browser please hear me out. I’m not going to try and convince you that Jason Statham is the Laurence Olivier of our time or that he should have won an Oscar for his work in Furious 7 (or Fast and Furious 7 or whatever it wants to call itself on any given day). However, I am going to attempt to make you understand why he is one of my favourite actors working today.
There is a strange sense of snobbery when it comes to Statham and his films. Much of his work is dismissed as vacuous noise, blurs of movement and scowling and sparse, grumbled dialogue of little to no consequence. But how is this any different to Steven Seagal’s bobbins output; Under Siege aside, Seagal has never done anything half decent, the bloke is essentially a leather jacketed, oaken wardrobe who became sentient after a sorcerer lost a bet. And don’t even get me started on Chuck Norris. There is just something eternally wonderful about watching Statham. His beautiful bald head, with his stern, furrowed expression, bobbing and weaving through a myriad of flailing arms and legs as he beats the living daylights out of a bunch of snarling heavies. It’s almost balletic.
The most important thing when watching an early Statham film (i.e. The Transporter, Crank) is that there is no point in looking for layers or subtilty. These films are pure in their attempts to assault you with as much noise, zippy scene cuts, and high concept nonsense as possible. Crank is the epitome of these values. Statham is Chev Chelios (a delightfully stupid name if there ever was one), a hitman who is betrayed and injected with some synthetic drug (Vimto perhaps?) which means he must keep his adrenaline up otherwise his heart will stop. Cue 80 minutes or so of car chases, shootouts, iffy puns, and the inevitable HELICOPTER FIGHT! It’s breathless stuff and Statham carries the entire film on his wonderfully muscular and broad shoulders. It’s no Die Hard (what is) but it is about as camp and silly as action films can get before it falls into true parody and it is all the better for it. Yes, the sequel failed to keep on the right side of that line (he charges himself up with a car battery, there’s a living floating head in a fish tank), but for sheer gleeful joy Crank is hard to beat.
If you trace your finger down his filmography you can see his attempts to widen his range. He keeps well within the action genre for the most part, however, his later roles (Hummingbird, Wild Card, Home Front) start to show Statham’s ability to bring some vestiges of emotional intensity when required. With Hummingbird in particular we see him as a emotionally unstable, homeless alcoholic, and follow him through his attempt to improve his life only to be thwarted by events around him. It’s probably Statham’s most devastating performance to date, powerful, compelling and committed, and I dare you not to be moved/saddened by the ending.
He also begins to stretch into films with a little more bite and nifty scripting (Blitz, Safe) instead of those with just a linear journey. Blitz in particularly fascinating ensemble piece, featuring some heavy acting talent such as Paddy Considine, David Morrissey and Aidan Gillen, and while it does stumble and stutter in parts, it’s still a pretty decent little cop/killer thriller.
Statham’s geezery vibe and self awareness of his own typecasting has also gave us opportunities to see his most potent weapon, his comedy timing. We see flashes of it in Lock Stock, Snatch and the Expendables series. His wonderful look of disdain, his withering gawps of incredulousness often steal the scenes they are in, and he can deliver a cheesy zinger with the best of them. However, his magnum opus is Spy. Playing an arrogant, incompetent spy suits Statham down to the ground. His unshowy style of acting means that when delivers a line such as, “I’ve swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to make a computer,” completely straight faced, it’s nigh on impossible to not to burst out laughing. He riffs on all he has done before, rips away the facade of a perfect hitman that he built in The Transporter and makes us all howl as he makes a dramatic exit on a boat only to realise he’s stuck on a lake.
All in all, Statham is the perfect modern action hero. He’s got enough acting chops to hold 90 minutes of our attention, he does a huge percentage of his own stunts, he’s not afraid to make himself look like an idiot, and he understands what is required for a no nonsense slab of entertainment. (Also helps that he’s a rather good looking bloke).
His next film will be Mechanic: Resurrection as he slips back into that stylish Arthur Bishop jacket and I can guarantee I will be keeping a tenner back to see it.