Matt Dillon as Mike Cochrone
Jean Reno as Quinn
Laurence Fishburne as Baines
Amaury Nolasco as Palmer
Fred Ward as Duncan Ashcroft
Milo Ventimiglia as Eckehart
Skeet Ulrich as Dobbs
Columbus Short as Ty Hackett
Andre Jamal Kinney as Jimmy Hackett
Andrew Fiscella as Dispatcher #1
Nick Jameson as Homeless Man
Glenn Taranto as Joe the Cook
Lorna Raver as Child Welfare Agent
Directed by Nimród Antal
A strong high concept heist thriller, sometimes hindered by the predictability of the genre and it’s marketing but regularly salvaged by the movie’s strong direction and the quality of the cast.
War vet Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) has just started a new job as an armed guard, but when it looks like his home is going to be foreclosed and his brother Jimmy taken out of his custody, he goes along with a plan by his colleagues (Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne) to steal millions of dollars from the bank and make it look like their armored car was highjacked. Things immediately start to go wrong with the plan forcing Ty to make some tough and dangerous decisions.
In a year where security guards have been lampooned and satirized by movies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Observe and Report,” it’s hard to remember any serious heist thrillers that were told from the perspective of the men who protect the money. “Armored” offers a fairly simple premise about armed guards trying to rob their own truck of millions of dollars, and how things go horribly wrong, as these things often do.
Working from a screenplay by newcomer James Simpson, this crime thriller opens with a tight 20 minutes of character introductions and plot set-up, as we meet Columbus Short’s Ty Hackett, and watch him learning the ropes as a armed truck guard. In that short amount of time, we learn everything we need to know about him, such as the fact that he’s an ex-soldier taking care of a younger brother after the death of their parents. Facing serious money problems and the repossession of their house, Ty allows himself to be talked into getting involved with his co-workers’ plans to steal the truck’s largest payload, claiming it to be stolen in a highjacking, with the understanding that nobody will get hurt or caught. It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong and after the crew’s vet Baines (Laurence Fishburne) shoots a homeless man who sees them, Ty has a change of heart, barricading himself in one of the armored cars with half the money, as the other men desperately try to get him out, realizing his actions have put their masterplan in jeopardy.
Once the actual heist goes into effect, most of the movie takes place within a spacious warehouse environment, seemingly moving forward in real time. Director Nimród Antal, who found new ways to explore the slasher genre with “Vacancy” does an equally good job creating a claustrophobic environment that would help elevate the tension between the men with so much money at stake. Driven by the character interaction, it’s a bit like the little-seen indie thriller “Unknown” involving a similar game of “last man standing” as the guys try to resolve their situation before getting busted.
The main reason why the development-heavy story works so well is that it’s performed by such a strong cast, particularly the likes of Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne, who have such a great chemistry together, it doesn’t take much imagination to see them as guards who’ve worked together for years. While they take the job very seriously, their playful humor helps create a fun vibe as the film opens, even if that means using a few already-overused movie jokes, like the one about large guns making up for other shortcomings. That joke is directed at Fishburne’s character, who is always waving a large shotgun around, and his performance is the only one that comes close to the scenery-chewing we’ve seen too many times in these movies. Character actors such a Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich and Amaury Nolasco do a more than competent job filling the archetypes necessary for the genre.
On the other hand, Columbus Short has come quite a way in very little time, delivering an exceptional performance as the film’s protagonist. It’s probably one of the best things we’ve seen from the relatively new actor, even if some of the earlier characters moments involving him and Andre Kinney as his younger brother Jimmy tend to drag. It never feels like any of that time used to develop the characters is wasted later, and there’s only one moment where one needs to really stretch their suspension of disbelief as far as humanly possible. (As you watch the heist take place, you wonder why the security company doesn’t have any sort of GPS tracking on their trucks, which would have immediately given away the crew’s plan.)
The big problem is that the movie is very predicable, not just due to a genre which only allows certain outcomes in any situation, but also because the trailers and commercial have given away so much of how things play out. The audience for this type of crime-thriller will probably already have seen a lot of this type of movie, so there are only a few aspects of it that will feel new, although there are still at least a few surprises along the way.
The marketing giving up the plot isn’t the fault of the cast or Antal, who is a smart enough director not to get overly flashy with his direction, getting all the shots he needs to tell the story and essentially letting his strong cast do their thing. His skills are most evident during the well-paced chase scenes, mid-scale set paces that should be enough to appease the action aficionado, driven by a terrific score by John Murphy, who was also responsible for the music for Guy Ritchie’s first few movies. As strong as it is musically, it does tend to get overused and even gets overbearing at times.
The Bottom Line:
It’s doubtful this by-the-books heist flick will be winning any awards, but for some fun escapist entertainment, one can (and probably has) certainly endured a hell of a lot worse, because this one at least offers a satisfying combination of action and strong character dynamics.