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December 6, 2009

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Movie Review – Armored (2009)

by HELEN GEIB

Armored (2009)

Armored is a taut thriller directed by Nimród Antal from a script by James V. Simpson. Its subject is an inside job heist of an armored truck transport. The criminals are the security detail, two three-man crews: Mike, Baines, and Ty, played respectively by Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, and Columbus Short; and Quinn, Palmer, and Dobbs, played by Jean Reno, Amaury Nolasco, and Skeet Ulrich. The film’s other significant characters are a sheriff’s deputy (Milo Ventimiglia), the shift boss (Fred Ward) at the security company, and Ty’s younger brother Jimmy (Andre Kinney).

The film’s hero is Ty, the newcomer in the group. A recently discharged veteran who assumed legal guardianship of teenaged Jimmy when their parents died of illness, he is in serious financial difficulties. He was recruited to join the company, and at the last minute the heist, by Mike, a longtime close friend of his father. Mike sold the plan as a guaranteed foolproof, nobody-gets-hurt big-time score. However, predictably, something goes wrong almost at the outset, setting off a disastrous, deadly chain reaction. What happens after the plan goes south has the inevitability of tragedy: character dictates – and is revealed by – the very different choices the men make.

Mike’s plan imposes a deadline; the job has to be finished within the one-hour window between picking up the money and the next scheduled check-in call to the office. The film also observes the deadline, playing out in real time once the clock starts ticking. It doesn’t make a fetish of the countdown. There’s no countdown clock in the corner of the screen or breakaway shots of the moving hands of a clock, and we never see anyone staring at his watch.

The filmmaking conveys the sense of urgency in a more subtle fashion. It is drawn out by the performances as the increasingly desperate men variously, to various degrees, rise to the occasion, break down, and cast off the restraints of conscience. John Murphy’s rhythmic, pulsing score takes a leaf from the John Carpenter dramatic-suspenseful playbook. The script keeps the action brisk and plausible, including in the occasional outbreaks of violent action that punctuate the standoff that develops between Ty and the others. The direction is tightly focused and purposeful. There are no wasted shots. While the film includes strong violence and several exciting action scenes, there is no gratuitous blood and gore (or one-liners to sound a false note). When someone does draw blood, the camera quickly cuts away from the victim to show us how the other men are reacting as events continue to spiral out of their control.

It is revealing that of the six guards, we are only on a first name basis with Ty and Mike. The pre-heist portion of the story is largely devoted to introducing and building audience sympathy for Ty, who is a good man going through a rough time. Aside from Mike, Ty does not know any of the guards more than casually. They are effectively strangers to him and with him, to us. (A few brief scenes economically establish that the group has been planning and working themselves up to this for a long time, but we learn very little to nothing of their personal biographies. As a corollary, the caliber of the cast is crucial to the film’s success; the actors walk on screen and are instantly real, recognizable people within the world of the film.) Like Ty, we don’t know what they’ll do when faced with hard decisions. They learn to their cost that they don’t know each other very well either.

3 stars


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. doc
    Dec 6 2009

    Few films have been as successful in assembling a supporting cast of such skill and screen presence. One after another, they command the screen when they appear, and command your attention when they interact. It’s a great shame that the studio lacked confidence in the film and failed to release or promote it as they could have done. See it quickly before it disappears. It deserves your attention.

  2. Dec 7 2009

    I could not be more surprised at a positive review of this film. I was going to completely avoid ARMORED but now, after reading this, I will try and see it when I have a chance.

  3. Helen
    Dec 7 2009

    @cc: Thanks for the vote of confidence. :-) I’m not saying this is a movie everyone is bound to love, but it is an effective genre piece.

  4. Aaron
    Dec 7 2009

    The review of this film on Hollywood.com is downright horrible.

    Nice review Helen!

    How’s Jean Reno’s performance?

  5. miriam
    Dec 7 2009

    I enjoyed this too. I liked the setting in the industrial wasteland, the contrasts between light and shadows and between the huge space and the claustrophobic interior of the armored car really contributed to the sense of tension that builds up. It’s good to see some people still trying to make a suspense thriller without a lot of explosions and pointless running around.

  6. Helen
    Dec 8 2009

    @Aaron: It’s more like he inhabits the part. The same can be said of Fishburne, Nolasco, Ulrich, and Ward. My knee-jerk reaction when I see good actors in minor parts is to say “what a waste,” but while they don’t get to display their acting chops, taking the film as a whole it’s a huge plus to have actors who can create distinctive characters just by being there.

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