I knew when I first saw the poster (Jason Statham. With a shotgun on his shoulder.) that I was going to go see this movie. You should go see it too. It’s a first class crime/caper/action flick with brains and a surprising amount of heart. Just note the R rating– Parker earns it for lots of bloody violence, a moderately high body count, and some dandy strong language. Spoilers, as always, are below the cut.
January and February is the time of year for medium budget action movies, and Parker is a particularly good example of the kind. What makes it outstanding is the quality of the writing. Not so much writing in terms of the lines spoken on screen, although there is some clever use of language and many funny moments, but the basic plotting and structure of the film and the construction of the capers. This is the first movie I’ve seen in a while with no big plot holes to drive the proverbial truck through. There are several lavish and well choreographed fights that actually managed to surprise me with some innovative twists—watch in particular for Parker demolishing an expensive hit man in an expensive hotel room, with a spectacular demonstration of one possible defense against the knife. (You will never look at a shower curtain the same way again.)
This is also the time of year when the special effects blockbusters go into hiding between the holidays and summer. Parker is a movie set in our world with only the limited effects needed to film the action sequences safely. The only fantasy elements are the wealth and the over the top violence. Yet it manages to be absolutely beautiful to look at: all lush sunlight and lush blacks, the camera glorying in plants and household knickknacks and blood. You’re never in doubt of exactly what guns people are carrying or what cars they drive or where they are. Especially where they are. None of this cheap, shoot everything in Vancouver stuff– every bit of this movie is shot on location. Columbus, Ohio is Columbus, Ohio, New Orleans is New Orleans, and above all, Palm Beach is Palm Beach. (I actually learned a lot about Palm Beach and how it operates.)
It’s odd to come this far into a review and find the first mention of the performances. But it’s not because they were bad. Jason Statham is Jason Statham, a magnificent looking man who may not have a great range as an actor, but the role of an intelligent and almost unstoppable professional criminal is well within that range. And there is a tenderness in this version of Parker, shown in his love for his mate and his loyalty to people who do right by him, that makes you wonder if there’s more in Statham than you thought. Jennifer Lopez is also good as the real estate agent who sees her life slipping away and takes a chance, and there are several interesting side characters, particularly the fixer Norte and the dynamic duo of the dog and the mom. (The mom is awesome.)
The Parker books (a series by the late Donald Westlake), have been piling up around the house for the last year or so, but I am not the person reading them, so I asked the resident Parker fan for his opinion. He thought Statham made a fine Parker, and the movie was a fairly good evocation of the Parker world, although of course it had to say a lot of things up front that Westlake developed organically in the books. But the Parker fan liked it, and that’s saying a lot.
Special notes for Statham fans would be below the cut if I could add a second one. Sorry.
OK , Statham fans, the answers to the two big questions: Yes, he takes his shirt off. Several times. Unwaxed. And Parker’s scar makeup, representing the marks of a long and misspent life that doesn’t appear in this film, is very well done. The effect is not entirely without interest.