Although it never presents itself as anything other than run-of-the-mill genre fare, “Blitz” is a classier crime thriller than its key elements might suggest. Despite nominal star Jason Statham’s even-more-wooden-than-usual perf and an annoying by-the-numbers score, strong turns from Paddy Considine as a tough gay detective and Aidan Gillen as a psycho manage to elevate a predictable plot about a serial killer targeting London cops. Pic opened wide May 20 in Blighty and a slew of other territories around the same time, but underperformed domestically, though it will find its real constituency via ancillary.
Detective Sgt. Tom Brandt (Statham) is the sort of never-plays-by-the-rules tough guy hated by his higher-ups for his “unconventional” (read: violent) methods, though somehow he never gets suspended from the force. When a number of his colleagues are killed by a hooded suspect whom CCTV cameras never quite catch sight of, Brandt is assigned to investigate alongside Porter Nash (Considine), an openly out chief inspector who eventually wins the initially homophobic Brandt’s grudging respect for his guts and smarts.
Like action pics of yesteryear that strained to dodge accusations of racism by making one black character a good guy to counterbalance the evil person of color elsewhere, “Blitz” uses Nash to get away with the suggestion that the baddie here, cop-killer Barry Weiss (Gillen), is gay. (Although Weiss’ sexuality is never spelled out, it’s implicit in his flirtatious repartee with Brandt, his at-times mincing gestures and the casting of Gillen, still best known in Blighty for his starring role in the original TV series “Queer as Folk.”) Even with a relatively skimpily written backstory, Gillen manages to add shades and nuances to the role, as does the always redoubtable Considine in his equally thin part.
Also worthy of praise are Mark Rylance as a bereaved officer and TV-trained relative newcomer Zawe Ashton as a beat cop struggling with drug addiction, a subplot that nearly upstages the main action. It speaks well of American helmer Elliott Lester (following up his well-regarded indie debut, “Love Is the Drug”) that he manages to get such strong perfs here, as well as some interesting mileage out of Nathan Parker’s script, based on a novel by Ken Bruen, that might seem shopworn on paper. Stylish lensing by Rob Hardy reps another enhancement; perhaps on good advice from locals, pic shows a good grip of London geography and idiolect.
Still, other areas suggest that Lester was pressured to dumb down the material to appease Statham’s male-skewing, machismo-loving core demographic. The tacky, rock-inflected, non-source score by Ilan Eshkeri is intrusive, adding a lousy straight-to-video ambience, as does the trite if brisk editing.