Sunday 30 May 2010

Armored (2009) [Blu-ray]

Sunday 30 May 2010
DIRECTOR: Nimród Antal
WRITER: James V. Simpson
CAST: Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco, Milo Ventimiglia, Skeet Ulrich & Columbus Short
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins. BUDGET: $20m
Directed with unfussy precision by Nimród Antal, Armored is a B-movie heist with an interesting mix of actors helping keep interest in what unfortunately doesn't have a devastating impact, killer twist or unexpected resolution up its sleeve to turn it into a cult classic. It's content to be a serviceable and occasionally inventive crime thriller with a decent premise that's easy to achieve on a relatively low budget and limited locations...

Ty Hackett's (Columbus Short) a veteran of the Iraq War now employed by a security company to transfer money between banks as part of an armoured car transport team. The guardian of his delinquent kid brother following the death of their parents, money's tight and social services are threatening to take Ty's sibling into care, so in desperation he agrees to help his work colleagues steal $42 million from the Federal Reserve by faking their own robbery mid-transit and hiding the cash in an abandoned steel mill. As expected, even simple and apparently infallible plans tend to go awry when you involve so many people and fail to consider every variable -- not least a crisis of conscience...

This is a neat idea for a tight, efficient thriller. Armored proves to be watchable and occasionally compelling, helped by the surprising calibre of the cast: Matt Dillon as greedy ringleader Cochrane, Laurence Fishburne as unhinged Baines, Skeet Ulrich as the desperate Dobbs, a wasted Jean Reno as loner Quinn, Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break) as the conflicted Palmer, and Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) as a young cop who stumbles upon the heist. Short makes for a decent lead, but this is one of those movies where everyone's on the level of archetypes and he's simply "the black guy with a conscience" who decides to sabotage the robbery once it starts to go off the rails and results in the death of an innocent bystander.

The majority of Armored is a fun and (literally) contained piece of tight drama, particularly once Ty locks himself inside a debilitated armoured truck with $21 million and every intention of raising the alarm, meaning his "friends" are under pressure to neutralize him and retrieve the remaining money before their superiors begin to suspect something's happened.

Armored also works as reflection of widespread public contempt and anger at the banking system, as it essentially boils down to a blue-collar gang stealing back the millions that taxpayers have pumped into the banks to keep them afloat during the global recession. Is it coincidence the security firm's called Eagle Shield, as that bird of prey's the symbol of the United States? The characters in Armored may be stealing, but there's a Robin Hood flavour to their plan, and I have no doubt audiences will feel a degree of sympathy seeing everyday folk recoup some of the public's lost finances, at least until desperation and greed starts to push the characters into dark, unforgivable places.

Blu-ray Review

Picture: (2.35:1, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4) A very detailed and generally pleasing image, especially during close-ups, although the black levels looked crushed occasionally.

Sound: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1) A solid sound-mix with clear dialogue, rumbling bass, and a strong dynamic range with good use of speakers, but nothing to raise it above enjoyable.

Special Features

Audio Commentary: Producer Dan Farah joins actors Skeet Ulrich and Milo Ventimiglia for a yak-track consisting of anecdotes and some insight into what didn't make the cut from the script. As expected whenever actors get together, it's a little lacking in many areas and there are some noticeable silences, so I wouldn't recommend this. Shame director Nimród Antal wasn't involved in this.

Planning The Heist: Making Of (HD, 15 mins.) A decent featurette that looks at how the movie was put together and individual characters, plus a nice anecdote from Nimród Antal about how a real armoured truck company severed ties with the production crew when they were robbed shortly after providing the film crew some insight into their working practices. A word of warning: don't watch this if you haven't seen the movie first, as it gives away a few twists.

Armed & Underground: Production Design (HD, 6 mins.) Serviceable EPK about how production designer Jon Gary Steele created the abandoned steel mill (a real location for exteriors, but a sound-stage for the interiors), but this wasn't really engrossing.

Crash Course: Stunts (HD, 11 mins.) Take-it-or-leave-it featurette about the film's stunts by Lance Gilbert, which didn't grab my interest until a reveal that in one sequence Gilbert was strapped onto a truck's roof to drive the vehicle from above, but removed using digital technology.

Previews: Trailers for "2012", "Michael Jackson's This Is It" and the ubiquitous "Blu-ray Is High Definition" promo.

Extras: BD Live and MovieQ functionality is included, for the few people who bother to use them.