Armored is a relatively small-scale crime thriller that got lukewarm reviews when it came out in 2009, and that nearly no one talks about now. So why talk about it now? Well, first of all, all movies are always worth talking about, if only because they got made in the first place; no one sinks 20 million dollars into a project for nothing. Secondly, the film’s director, Nimrod Antal, is among the filmmakers singled out by the loose-knit, even-more-loosely-defined vulgar auteurist group as a director to watch (mostly on the strength of his 2010 actioner Predators). Thirdly, and more to the point of the review, Armored is representative of a strain of action movies that sabotage their own leanness with artificial narrative/thematic weight that compromises its thematic integrity rather than amplifying it.
This is chiefly a writerly concern, and if Armored has the feel of someone’s first go-round, it’s because it is. To date, this film is screenwriter James V. Simpson’s sole credit. I don’t know the man personally, but I’m willing to bet that he holds Reservoir Dogs in high esteem, because Armored can be more-or-less accurately summarized by “what if we saw the heist in Reservoir Dogs, and what if there was more set-up?” I could excuse the Screenwriting 101 feel of the first act and change if the script had an intangible quality to lock onto. Unfortunately, Simpson’s dialogue and characterizations are rote at best, harping on endlessly and unnecessarily about the importance of brotherhood. Columbus Short’s protagonist is cartoonishly valiant; he’s an orphan, his kid brother’s caretaker, and a war veteran. Oh, and the bank is coming for the family house. All of this is presumably demonstrated in order to get us to sympathize with him.
Armored‘s assumption that all of this is required in order for us, as viewers, to get behind the protagonist is the main reason why the screenplay drags the film down. If you present a character with money woes and a moral backbone, and then put him in the middle of an internal heist he gets coaxed into participating in, that is internal conflict aplenty to drive a 90-minute B movie. In fact, laying it on thick just makes the flimsiness of the script that much more apparent. If the movie were pared down to just the initial prank, the set-up, the heist, and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse, it would be a the kind of no-bullshit action movie that would have made Don Siegel proud. Sadly, too much of the labourious set-up feels like dead weight, and can’t entirely be redeemed by the admittedly cool payoff.
But what makes Armored work, unsurprisingly, is the actual craft. Antal has a slick, old-school approach to direction action, letting set pieces breathe and getting up close and claustrophobic when need be. DP duties were handled by Andrej Sekula, who had worked with Antal on his previous film, Vacancy. He also worked on Quentin Tarantino’s first two films, and as with them, succeeds here in making dirt and concrete seem vivid. Dance film vet Short is a solid, agile performer, and the rest of the cast is composed of a group of character actors who elevate the material by their very presence. Despite all of this, Armored is basically just two-thirds of a great crime thriller, and an example of how to overwrite a good, simple premise.
Directed by Nimrod Antal; written by James V. Simpson; starring Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Skeet Ulrich, Amaury Nolasco, and Fred Ward; 88 minutes.