You don’t have to like Jason Statham, but give the man his dues: diver (made the U.K. National team), model (for FCUK, even before his film career), martial artist (he does all his own fighting scenes), former black market salesman (as a kid he peddled fake jewels and perfume), car nut (he does most of his own car stunts) and childhood friend of Vinnie Jones (‘nuff said).
You also have to admit that you enjoyed at least one of his films. And despite being balder than a middle-age accountant, he’s a player on all those ‘sexiest humanoid’ lists. Sure, he’s not going to win an Oscar any time soon, but here are Jason Statham’s five best films.
The first movie we saw him in was Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, as one of the four friends whose gambling plan goes very wrong. But Statham’s first stand-out role was as the boxing promoter Turkish who hires Brad Pitt’s pikey champion bare-knuckle boxer.
Why was this special for Statham? Because he stood out among a cast that not only included Pitt in one of his career-highlights, but Benicio Del Toro and Vinnie Jones close to or at the top of their careers.
And he didn’t even have to fight a room full of guys.
Transporter is a fun film all in itself, showcasing Statham’s talent at kicking ass. It worked so well that he has been sticking to large elements of the formula ever since: typically a mysterious figure that plays his cards close to his chest, but able to get out of pretty much any situation – meticulous, smart and careful, but not adverse to simply blowing everything up.
If they ever make a Grand Theft Auto movie, Statham would be the perfect lead. But The Transporter’s appeal lies deeper than that. There hadn’t been a movie like this in years. Action extravaganzas were either occupied with wire tricks, fantasy epics, sci fi blockbusters or Michael Bay.
This was released in the same year as Die Another Day – that should tell you a lot. Granted, 2002 also saw the first Bourne film. Not all credit can go to The Transporter – and to be honest the later films lost their way – but admit that you loved watching it the first time.
There is a movie out there called Crank 2 and it is a regarded in a very special way by a small group of movie enthusiasts. You either love or hate it. It is ridiculous, insane and wrong – containing perhaps all the best bits from all the bad action films out there.
But it works for two reasons: Statham and that there was a preceding movie. Crank is downright churchgoing when compared to its sequel, but this film just struck a chord with the audiences of 2006.
Often accused of catering to video gamers’ ADD concentration spans, it was a natural evolution for Statham’s formula, just with less plot and more action. If anything this probably speaks most for Statham’s appeal, because it is hard to imagine Crank working with anyone else.
Jet Li and Statham have worked together several times, first in the tepid The One and most recently in the Expendables movies. The first Expendables was entertaining, but Statham was too typical with a pointless side-tale (though the basketball court fight scene was worth the indulgence) and Li was really not intimidating (EVERYONE looks small next to Dolph Lundgren, so why even draw so much attention to it?).
Their best collaboration by far was War, also known as Rogue Assassin. Once again it’s not Oscar-grabbing stuff, but these two action stars are pitted against each other beautifully and apart from a pretty bizarre twist it’s fun to watch.
Unfortunately the movie never got traction and remains largely unknown except for die-hard fans and those who stumbled upon it on a DVD shelf.
Statham is no idiot: he does try and move beyond the formulas that have made him successful. Unfortunately most such efforts – The Italian Job, Revolver, etc. – let him down quite badly. Also, Statham only seems capable of playing one type of character (or maybe it’s all that interests him). But Killer Elite shows that he can actually mix the two up.
It’s by no means a classic for the ages, but nothing that a bit of time in the editing suite couldn’t fix. Based on the relative proximity of a true story and bolstered with actors like Robert De Niro and Clive Owen, it places Statham in a remarkably spartan role, with more grounded action and a thriller temperament.
Killer Elite exposes Statham’s main strength (and weakness): his supporting cast. Sure, he can hold it on his own, as some of the films show. But when going deeper and more complicated, Statham needs some help from guys with acting chops.
Yet that also makes him do what he does best: create a grounded character in the middle that you can rely on. I’d entrust my house keys to Jason long before considering either De Niro, Owen, Jones, Del Toro or Pitt. The exception is Jet Li, but I’d be embarrassed to show him my place…
- Starring: Jason Statham