We check out Jason Statham's latest action heist film Parker & his take on the quintessential anti hero tough guy

Wednesday, March 06, 2013 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

The Establishing ShotThere is a line of dialogue in Mad Max that goes something like this:

Fifi: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes!"

I suspect this line was also heard in Jason Statham's agent's office the day the Stath walked into his life. As pretty much single-handedly Jason Statham has revived the flagging tough guy genre. Sure there are others that have dipped in and possibly made a splash but no one else has had the stamina or ongoing consistency to rival him.

I was there the day Statham walked onto the stage to cheers at the The Expendables Premiere when Sylvester Stallone said "Don't encourage him too much he wants my job!"  - too late.

parker jason statham film poster
Jason Statham is Parker Film Poster
In the interests of transparency I should start by saying that I am not the biggest fan of Jason Statham's works, yes I have enjoyed some of his films but probably not the ones you like unless they are; Cellular, London, Revolver Crank, The Killer Elite and his other Guy Ritchie films obvs . And yes Parker is exactly the kind of film I would usually avoid - leaving it to those who may appreciate it more.

However my interest in Parker has less to do with Jason Statham's special brand of Kick assery or Jennifer Lopez's special brand of acting and more to do with Director Taylor Hackford the man who made the Richard Gere starrer - An Officer and a Gentleman, Jeff Bridges's  Against All Odds of which I am a huge fan , (and feel is ripe for a updated hardcore remake) as well as the absolutely brilliant mini Godfather Mexican gang epic Blood in Blood Out.

Hackford has a huge catalogue of films to his credit and whilst some aren't really my cup of tea Taylor Hackford combined with a screenplay from John J. McLaughlin the man who helped write Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, 2012's Hitchcock and is currently working on a Splinter Cell adaptation as well as co-producing Statham's next film, a remake of Heat - not Michael Mann's Heat but the 1986 Burt Reynolds Heat (or Edged Weapons as I knew it growing up) written by the great William Goldman. All good but the real draw of Parker for me - was that Parker was adapted by McLaughlin from a (1962) book by Donald E. Westlake.

Parker Jason Statham is coming
Parker Jason Statham is coming
Now Donald E. Westlake, writing as Richard Stark (one of his many pseudonyms) wrote one of my favourite crime noir characters of all time into history - a man called Parker. Westlake / Stark wrote 23 novels about the ruthless thief Parker. I first got to know him as Walker when Lee Marvin played him in Point Blank directed by John Boorman. I love Point Blank it is the seminal anti hero tough guy picture, very few measure up to Walker and the clinical, dark world of mobsters that Boorman creates. In this underbelly criminal empires are run like corporations the largest know as the outfit or organisation, like big business the white collar bosses are on top and soldiers do the grunt work and get their hands dirty. Outside of this are the independents - smaller criminals who work for themselves but have to occasionally deal with Outfit.

Point Blank was an adaptation of Westlake / Stark's first Parker novel called The Hunter. In it Parker is betrayed by his crew and left for dead after a bank job. Of course he comes back looking for revenge and his share of the heist. In itself not an original plot but Boorman constructs a credible stark hard boiled underworld in which crime thrives, he also masterfully manipulates us as he creates moods  and shifts from darkly humorous to savage violence in a flash. This allows Lee Marvin to breathe life into Walker with an incredible amount of brutal ferocity  and efficiency - the likes of which have never quite been matched on screen. In Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs Michael Madsen's Mr Blonde after a tense stand off with smaller older guy Harvey Keitel's Mr. White who bluntly won't back down - exclaims:
Mr. Blonde: Boy that was really exciting. I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan aren't ya. Yeah me too. I love that guy. My heart's beatin' so fast I'm about to have a heart attack.
The Lee Marvin he is talking about it the Lee Marvin in Point Blank. For similar examples of rage driven characters hellbent on getting their way see - Chan-wook's Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) from Oldboy as well as Daniel Craig's Bond and Matt Damon's Bourne, there is also an incredibly well shot and choreographed fight scene in Parker in a similar vein to Bond/Bourne fight.  For an attempted carbon copy of Lee Marvin's Walker check out The Rock Dwayne Johnson's Driver in George Tillman Jr.'s 2010 Faster he gets the walks almost right.

Video: Point Blank trailer

Walker is a man single mindedly driven by the inertia of revenge with little regard for the price or personal safety. His path of destruction leads right up the corporate ladder of the Outfit and he has no problem dispensing with anyone and everyone who gets in his way. With one major exception. Parker/Walker is a professional he only wants his share of the ill gotten gains not a penny more or  a penny less - so this makes him somewhat of a conflicted character - a principled yet morally bankrupt man. It also makes  him one of the most compelling characters in the genre.

Parker disguised as a regular joe
Parker disguised as a Regular Joe

So Parker is a quite a character  So much so that he was brought back to the big screen in 1999 by Mel Gibson in Payback or  Payback: Straight Up as it is now known -  Payback followed the same story as Point Blank and The Hunter but Parker become Porter and Gibson brought more humour and heart to the role. Both Point Blank and Payback are on my favourite films list.

Video: Payback Trailer

Parker was also brought to life by by Jim Brown as McClain in The Split (1968), as Macklin in The Outfit (1973) by Robert Duvall and as Stone by Peter Coyote in Slayground (1983) and also been adapted to an ongoing comic series called The Hunter. Those are the official adaptation some unofficial exist as well as well as every tough guy anti hero role in film in the last couple of decades has come to draw on the seminal character that Lee Marvin brought to life (including almost every previous role Jason Statham has played). 

So you see I have a bit of a vested interest in the character Parker and possibly my expectations were higher than they should have been but I was quite keen to see Parker back on screen.

Well Parker is based on the novel Flashfire which follows a similar story to The Hunter / Point Blank / Payback in that after begrudgingly finding himself part of a crew Parker is betrayed and left for dead but anyone who has ever seen a Jason Statham film knows that the Stathe will be back.

parker heist crew
Parker heist crew sitting around 
There are moments when Parker showed great Noir crime promise,  due to some interesting set pieces and it has all the elements of a great crime tale, charismatic lead - Jason Statham, femme fatales with a twist - Jennifer Lopez, tough guy crews led by Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr.Michah Hauptman, a brutal and efficient killer, crusty old criminals Nick Nolte based on a story by a great American crime writer. Sadly all these elements can't come together in an cohesive tale and I was underwhelmed by Parker. It all starts off well and we are straight into a heist, a very 70s low fidelity style heist where a 100 things can go wrong and some do.  Within the 15 minutes of the film starting Jason Statham tells the victims/hostages and the audience the kind of man he is. 

Video: Parker UK 30" TV Trailer in Cinemas 8th March

He is the kind of man that has built his ethos around film taglines and has to convey expository character development through dialogue rather than actions. I can't help but think this has more to do with Statham's larger career arc following the rules of successful tough guy actors - they start starring in 18 certificate and slowly make their way into family films. Parker is about a third of the way along this scale so he kicks ass, but has a heart in the right place.

Which makes most of what I like about the original Parker - void and it becomes clear that Parker would have benefited from a lead that we didn't know - was supremely confident because he could kick the ass of everyone in the world - making Parker less of a great anti hero and more of just another Jason Statham film.

Parker Jason Statham Parker Priest
Parker disguised as a  Priest
Despite a flawed script Parker actually plays out with charm and quite effectively as pretty soon we are rooting for Parker as his chase takes him to millionaire's row on Palm Beach and it becomes clear that after a couple of clothes changes that he is trying to graduate from the Bruce Lee School of disguise - when he dons a Stetson and pair of boots and becomes an Oil Tycoon to fit into high society. There are moments of dark humour which work well but sadly these are few and far between.

Parker disguised as an oil tycoon
Parker disguised as an oil tycoon
Despite the incredulous heists which lack ingenuity and seem to have been dropped into slots previously entitled (insert TBC heist job here) Statham action junkies should be pleased as there is a pretty damn good fight, in fact it is probably one of Statham's best on screen fights.

The biggest surprise for me was Jennifer Lopez who comes out looking quite good in Parker there are some scenes where I grimaced at her sleepy person acting (blame the Director and Editor they should have tidied those particular scenes up) but overall as we get to know her character a bit better she shifts from annoying to a welcome addition to the noir genre - the desperate meddling passive aggressive gold digger with her role plays to her strengths.


There may have been a pretty good noir film laced with dark humour somewhere in Parker but I just couldn't find it, so like many tough guy films (including most of Statham's films) it didn't work for me there were just too many inconsistencies and distracting elements - which I suspect a Statham fan may not even notice or consider in their enjoyment. Despite it being a lot of work and all over the place Parker still builds to a fairly satisfying climax and I'm hoping that Statham reprises the role again based on one of Westlake's other novels and does it justice.

Parker Jason Statham Jennifer Lopez
Parker Jason Statham Jennifer Lopez
In the interests of fairness as I hate it when reviewers bad mouth films of genres they clearly do not appreciate and my discussion above kind of borders dangerously on this area so to be able to present a balanced point of view for Parker - I caught up with Jason Statham authority & aficionado Alan Simmons @v_for_vienetta , well leaned over, as he was sitting next to me for this screening to hear his thoughts - Parker fits in somewhere between Killer Elite and The Mechanic neither of which are his favourite Statham films.

I actually quite enjoyed both of those and feel that he have been a bit harsh given how I feel about Parker. I guess Parker could be called a classic Jason Statham action film and either you love them or hate them.


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