May 212010
 

Written by first-time screenwriter James V. Simpson, and directed by Nimŕod Antal (who previously directed Vacancy, and is directing this year’s Predators), Armored tells the story of a group of close friends, and armored car transport employees, who are down on their luck, and decide to steal the tens of millions of dollars that they are being paid to safely transport.

The story begins with decorated armed service veteran Ty Hackett (Columbus Short, Whiteout) becoming a fully fledged member of the Eagle Shield transport team, and bonding with his friends, all of whom have been in the business longer than him, and have become somewhat disenchanted by the whole thing; a feeling which is exacerbated by the fact that many of the guys are struggling to make ends meet, yet are responsible for the day to day safety of the faceless banks’ millions of dollars.

Ty isn’t that disenchanted himself, but as his parents recently died, and left him with two mortgages, and a younger brother to raise; the bank are threatening to take his house because he can’t make the payments, social workers are threatening to take his brother because he’s got several arrests and has been failing to turn up for school, and his boss won’t throw him any extra over-time; when his best friend Mike (Matt Dillon, Crash) approaches him, and asks him to join the rest of the guys in robbing their armored cars (on one of two days of the year when it would be the most lucrative), he has little choice but to accept, and does so on Mike’s strict assurance that no-one will get hurt.

But, as this is an action movie, it’s obvious that the guys plan to hide the money and fake being ‘jacked’ won’t go off without its fair share of glitches; and after one particularly bad one, where a rather excessive member of the team, Baines (Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix), test out his new shotgun on a witness, Ty has a sudden and definite change of hear, whereby he attempts to inform the authorities of what has happened; something that the other guys refuse to allow, and after Ty’s conscience shows itself and leads to him locking himself inside one of the armored cars, the others spend the rest of the movie trying to coax him out, break their way in, and silence any other potential witnesses; including a nosey sheriff’s deputy called Jake Eckehart (Milo Ventimiglia, Heroes), who comes to investigate after hearing noises coming from the abandoned warehouse district where the men from Eagle Shield are held up.

The film maintains a steady yet heightened, and tense, pace, that adds a real sense of immediacy to the mens actions, which are essentially played out in real time (after their last radio transmissions, the team have just over 50 minutes to hide the money, and fake the “jacking”); and effect that adds to the tension (because as a viewer it is near impossible not to attempt to work out how long they have before the people at Eagle Shield, and then the police, realize that something is up), and similar to Nimŕod’s horror film Vacancy (which had a similar real time feel), it makes the most of it’s singular location setting, by maintaining a fully fluid situation; not only are Ty’s plans changing and evolving as he attempts to notify the authorities, and find a way out alive, but Mike and the other guys are constantly adapting as new problems arise, plans fall apart, and other members of the group begin to have second thoughts.

The actions of the characters are also made believable by the impressive cast, which not includes Columbus Short as the confused hero, and Matt Dillon as the misguided wannabe robber, who will stop at nothing to ensure that he and his friends avoid going to jail (a part he fits into excellently; always seeming as if he doesn’t really want to go through with it, but strongly disagrees with the system, and sees no other way to helps his friends, and will go to any lengths to protect them, and himself), but Laurence Fishburne (in a role that is the exact opposite of the cool and collected Morpheus from The Matrix, as he really seems to relish the nasty side of the job a little too much), and Milo Ventimiglia (who gives an average performance as an unlucky deputy who gets caught up in something he shouldn’t, and ends up wishing he hadn’t).

They are also joined by Jean Reno (Leon); who plays a fairly small part for someone of his caliber, and is little more than a loyal sheep to Dillion’s shepherd; Skeet Ulrich (Jericho); who delivers a solid showing as a soul tormented over the ideas of brotherhood, and doing what he believes to be be right; and Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break); who also gives a decent performance as another confused, yet fiercely loyal, member of the team.

The direction itself is nothing overly special (save for three or four fairly flashy shots  that can be seen during some of the action sequences), but the action is both solid and regular (there’s car chases, a lengthy robbery, gunfights, fistfights, and more), and in the end, Armored is a thoroughly fun film, that is not taken too seriously, is a brilliant piece of escapism, that, despite not being exceptionally memorable, is sure to both thrill and entertain any action fan.

Picture:

Armored’s picture, which comes by way of a full 1080p transfer that is suitably impressive, but not without its problems; the detail is generally fantastic, but does noticeably dip in quality during some softer shots, although close-ups are perfect, and textures, and overall depth, are superb throughout.

The transfer’s problems arise when looking at the black levels, as while they sometimes appear quite deep, there is a large amount of crush present, which eliminates a huge portion of the film’s shadow detail, and while there is no noticeable aliasing or edge enhancement present, the skintones (which are at times spot-on) can often seem just a little too red.

Really, Armored has been given a very good transfer, that is far above passable, and only fails to hit the top scores due to a few minor niggles, that shouldn’t prove distracting to anybody watching the film; especially when the level of detail makes the warehouse look as good as it does.

Audio:

Armored’s audio (a 5.1 DTS HD-MA mix) is similar in quality to its picture; solid, but not without its problems; the bass is frequent and fantastic, providing some stunning lows and impressive rumbles, that are accompanied by a great dynamic range, excellent directionality, and solid positioning.

Dialogue is also clear (but does get a little drowned out in one or two scenes), and the use of all channels is evident from the start (with some decent ambient effects being employed from the rear channels), but the problems with the track will rest more with viewers personal taste than anything else; because while the ambient noises may be good, there are several gaps where no ambience can be heard, and the soundfield feels a little too empty, and on the flip-side, the action sequences tend to get very busy and loud, sometimes slightly unrealistically so (the rumble from the armored cars is a little excessive).

Aside from the dialogue issue (which is hardly noticeable, and not really an issue as no important dialogue is lost), there aren’t really any problems with the mix, it’s just not totally realistic (and therefore not demo quality), but anyone who likes their action soundtracks to fill the room, and blow them away, with clear, loud, well positioned, effects and a nicely excessive amount of bass, is sure to get a real kick out of this track, as it never once plays it safe, and goes all out, all the time.

Extras:

The disc’s bonus material however, is not up to the same standard, as while it does contain a few interesting and easy to watch featurettes; including a making of (that contains the normal behind the scenes footage, as well as interviews with the cast, crew, and director, but manages to spoil just about every twist in the movie), a feature on production design (from choosing locations and building the stage on which the majority of the film would be shot), and one about the films stunts (which contains more interviews, explanations, and interesting anecdotes; such as how the car chases were originally planned out with toy cars and Lego); they all seem just a little too promotional, and a touch lacking on the information side.

There’s also an audio commentary; featuring producer Dan Farah, Skeet Ulrich, and Milo Ventimiglia, which discusses unused story ideas, and provides a number of amusing and unexpected anecdotes, but does feature several periods of silence, and several reactions to the film (as if they got caught up watching rather than discussing); which is brilliant in parts (as far as commentaries go), but is fairly average in the end, because of the problems mentioned.

Other than that, there’s a generic Blu-ray trailer on the disc, as well as trailers for 2012, and Michael Jackson’s: This Is It, and the option for BD-Live connectivity and MovieIQ; which added to the above features make a collection which is somewhat less than special, despite the features being fairly easy to watch and interesting, as they generally feel too promotional, don’t delve quite deep enough into the production, and spoil practically every twist and stunt that the picture has to offer; not the best selection ever, but one that’s got enough gems to entertain the films fans.

The Bottom Line:

The extras might be nothing overly special (but they’re still worth a look), and both the picture and audio have their problems (but are still pretty solid overall), but Armored, the film itself, is a real gem; it’s a throwback to the, much loved, 90’s action films such as Broken Arrow, Hard Rain, and Speed (despite the fact that the guys can’t actually go anywhere for most of the movie); it’s Reservoir Dogs meets Panic Room, in a film that Laurence Fishburne describes as nothing more than simple “fun”, exactly what an action movie should be.

It provides an almost accidental social commentary (about the plight of the poor, and the lengths at which the disenfranchised will go to ensure that they are safe; blurring the line between good and bad), and has a pretty solid cast, who put on a great show, in a film with an interesting plot; and while Armored is never in danger of making its audience think too hard, it’s guaranteed to please any action fan (and even anyone who only dabbles in the genre from time to time), and anyone who takes it for what it is; a decent heist film that’s not to be taken too seriously, and just viewed as an all out fun action flick. Simple, honest, fun, and thoroughly entertaining to boot.