Wednesday, August 11, 2010
[From the archives; this short review (classified Crucial) appeared in the December 18, 2009 edition of the CINE-FILE weekly list. I've slightly revised it since then.]
Had Armored been made in the mid-1960s, and the director's name been Don Siegel and not Nimród Antal, it would enjoy a solid reputation now. For the present, stuck with its generic name and relatively unknown director, it'll have to suffer the fate of being seen by only a few and being treated seriously by even fewer. Which is a travesty, considering that many worse films will be picking up awards in a few months while this one quietly slips out on to DVD.
Antal's film has a quality, like Seigel's best, which could alternately be called economy or brutality. It's a violent picture made of violent pictures, with a carefully picked cast and just a few sets. Heads, walls, and guns thrust out of the screen, and it's all over in 90 minutes. Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon (in what could be called the Kirk Douglas role), Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich, and a handful of others play a tightly-knit band of armored truck guards who decide to fake a heist and hide the money. The first part works; the second is stalled by Dillon's godson (Columbus Short), a guilt-ridden veteran who refuses to go along with the plan after Fishburne murders a homeless vagrant who spotted them stashing the money. With the armored trucks parked in an abandoned steel works, the men have an hour before they have to check in with their boss (played by Fred Ward and given a haircut that emphasizes the actor's resemblance to David Lynch). In that hour, they have to either convince or kill Short, who has barricaded himself inside one of the vehicles.
Dwarfed by the gigantic interior of the steel works, the guards are little men who scamper, getting their fingers crushed, yelling, hiding in shadows, and crawling through muck. They're even more homuncular than Clouzot or Friedkin's truckers and stuck in a scenario that's twice as desperate and ten times as avoidable. This is either a chase film where all the parties have already caught up with each other, or a prison movie without wardens; a good 45 minutes of the movie takes place in a space no more than a hundred feet across, with the characters conspiring against one another only a few feet apart. Fishburne has grown fat with age, and the sagging skin on his neck gives him a lethargic menace, like an improved Tom Sizemore. The two chase scenes, with armored trucks racing each other through the barren steelworks in the daytime, are the best of their kind since the finale of Robocop.