Armored (US - BD)
Welcome new reviewer A.J., who puts his love of heist flicks on lockdown...
A film need not always try so hard to be a success. Sometimes, all that's required is to do a job exceptionally well, and greatness might very well follow. On the flip side, when the bare minimum of effort is exercised you get something as generic as Armored. Director Nimrod Antal pulled this routine a while back with Vacancy, a close-quarters thriller that just barely did enough to justify a theatrical release. Armored shows what happens when Antal gets his hands on the heist drama, the results of which are as dishearteningly bland as my transparent segues indicate.
The economy is hitting everyone a little hard lately, and action heroes are no exception. Fresh off a tour of duty in the military, Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) is having a hell of a time trying to stave off welfare agents and keep his baby bro on the straight and narrow. Shifts are scarce at his new job as an armored truck driver, so when co-worker Mike Cochrane (Matt Dillon) proposes a larcenous offer, Ty can't refuse is. With some fellow down-on-their-luck employees, Cochrane plans to make off with a $42 million haul they've been hired to transport. The plan seems too good to be true, and, wouldn't you know it, it is, as the heist goes quickly and violently awry, forcing Ty to choose between financial security and living to glower at the camera another day.
I hesitate to use the term ‘Hitchcockian’ in reference to Armored and further dilute its meaning. To Antal's credit, though, he does employ a set-up ol' Hitch might've favoured once upon a thriller. Moral mettles are put to the test here, wherein flaring tempers and an enclosed setting are used to drive the suspense. The primary pieces are established well enough, and there's even a little comfort in knowing that Antal won't bite off more from the genre than his gut can handle. But this approach is also the man's Kryptonite, for where other filmmakers would start making their respective tweaks to the formula, Antal adopts a surprisingly complacent stance. He sort of stands back and lets the drama do whatever it wants, which is nice, except this story summons about as much ambition as the average Jeff Dunham groupie.
In its haste to be lean and mean, Armored misses out on chance after chance to ratchet up its intensity. Antal has respect for the material and enough know-how to recruit tough guy vets like Fred Ward and Jean Reno to give the ride some weight. But when real character development is sacrificed to keep the story moving, decorum becomes the only reason to stick around. Still, what Antal lacks in storytelling substance is made up for in part by the man's ability to nail an appropriately dingy atmosphere and throw in a couple nifty visual tricks for good measure. Plus, even with seasoned pros in the cast, Antal coaxes the best performances from Short as the conflicted hero and Milo Ventimiglia as a clean-cut cop caught up in the post-heist ruckus.
Though it's one of my few Blu experiences to date, I have to say that Armored is quite the sharp flick. Antal plays with the grittiness enough so that it never becomes a problem or looks as if someone replaced the lens with a coffee filter. Just about every trace of filth comes through with great clarity, and those dying to see every crevasse on the face of Skeet Ulrich outlined in sweat will find their wishes granted here. The image gets a tad wonky when there's little light involved, but such moments don't last long and leave no impact on how snazzy the picture looks otherwise.
A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is used here to intermittent advantage. This really isn't that much of an action-heavy romp; aside from a chase scene or two, the loudest thing you'll hear is Laurence Fishburne cackling up a storm. But sound is a boon to the suspense factor in two key scenes, one in which not hearing a certain action taking place is a sign of a certain substance hitting the fan. Overall, though, Armored's audio is low-key; it's all well and good, but you won't be tapping your feet to the music as the ending credits roll.
The Armored Blu edition I got hold of is fairly basic in terms of bells and whistles. A ubiquitous digital copy is included (which I've no use for), as well as BD-Live content (which I, at the moment, cannot access). The disc offers a feature-length commentary track with actors Ventimiglia and Skeet Ulrich, along with producer Dan Farah, though there's not much to be gleaned of it aside from the occasional anecdote. Weirdly enough, all three sound incredibly similar, so it was hard to tell which of the trio was talking about how badass Jean Reno is. You're likely to get more out of the three making-of pieces, all of which are basic but plenty informative. ‘Planning the Heist’ (15:19) is your traditional behind-the-scenes doc, the highlight of which is a great quote Antal relays in regards to making heist movies. ‘Armored and Underground’ (06:47) touches upon aspects of the production design, which included taking brand-new materials and whipping them into a grungy hellhole David Fincher would be proud of. ‘Crash Course’ (11:30) discusses the film's stunt work, of which there's little, so the closed-course truck chase at the picture's center becomes the main attraction. A line-up of Sony previews is also included, ranging from the promising ( It Might Get Loud) to the utterly disheartening ( The Bounty Hunter).
I'd barely recommend Armored to rent, let alone advise adding it to one's hi-def library. The film looks nice, yes, but it's hard to justify ponying up the extra scratch for something a CBS cop drama could out-do on an off day. Armored has the look of an old-school treat down pat, but it's in duplicating the same badass spirit that Nimroad and company come a little short.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by A.J. Hakari
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 16th March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
Extras: Producer and Cast Commentary, Making-of Documentaries, Digital Ccopy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nimrod Antal
Cast: Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno
Length: 88 minutes
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