The underworld melodrama Redemption stars Jason Statham as a homeless, alcoholic veteran who has been reduced to living in a cardboard box behind a London restaurant. While evading some alley thugs, he breaks into a luxury apartment; realizing that the tenant, a gay photographer, will be out of the country for the foreseeable future, Statham decides to move in, introducing himself to the neighbors as the man’s boyfriend. With the help of the photographer’s credit card and a closet full of sharp suits, Statham embarks on a self-improvement regimen that eventually lands him a job as an enforcer for the Chinese mob. Using his newfound wealth and gangland connections, he sets out to right his past wrongs, in the process befriending Agata Buzek, a Polish nun who runs a homeless outreach program.
Redemption (titled Hummingbird in its original U.K. release) marks the film-directing debut of screenwriter Steven Knight, who previously penned the similarly themed London noirs Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. While the plotting—prostitution rings, human trafficking, protection rackets—is very much in Knight’s wheelhouse, the shape of the movie seems to elude him; Redemption is a meandering collection of narrative threads tied together by little more than a vague notion of atonement. Considering that its two protagonists are a gangster and a nun, the movie is disappointingly unwilling to deal with larger spiritual and moral questions; the only motivation given to Statham and Buzek by Knight’s script—which leans a little too heavily on flashbacks as a narrative device—is guilt for their past sins. The movie says that people feel the need to redeem themselves, but never bothers to ask why.
When Redemption works, it’s as a series of writerly miniatures fleshed out by Statham’s street-tough charisma and Chris Menges’ neon-soaked nighttime camerawork: Chinese gangsters explaining that they have to hire an Englishman like Statham because their upwardly-mobile, college-educated children don’t talk to them anymore; Statham and Buzek drunkenly ambling home from a gallery opening; Statham confronting the thugs who used to terrorize him; the wordless sequence where Statham breaks into the photographer’s apartment. These scenes are little morsels bobbing in a thin soup.