Directed by: Nimrod Antal
Starring: Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Lawrence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco, Skeet Ulrich, Milo Ventimiglia
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence, some disturbing images and brief strong language.
There’s something really satisfying about a thriller that does its job well and without pretension. “Armored” is as down-to-earth as its blue-collar main characters, and isn’t trying to make big, grand statements. It simply tells its story effectively, and if it has something to say about loyalty and courage, it seems almost to be by accident. But everything about this film is there to serve the story, including its quiet message.
Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) has it rough. He came back from his second tour in Iraq and had to take over raising his brother after his parents died, leaving him mired in hospital bills and mortgage debts. He has a job as an armored truck guard, but there aren’t enough shifts to go around and the bank is sending him nasty letters about the family house. When his godfather Mike (Matt Dillon) tells him that he and the other guards they work with are planning to fake a hijacking and steal over $40 million, Ty’s initial response is to refuse, but he has his younger brother to think about, and Mike swears that nobody will get hurt. Ty says he’s in.
Of course, with a hothead like Baines (Laurence Fishburne) on the crew, something is bound to go wrong, and it does: a drifter sees them unloading the cash and stowing it in an abandoned steel mill. Baines shoots him, and Ty tries to get the man to safety. The others aren’t going to let themselves be turned in, and soon Ty is trapped in one of the armored trucks trying to find a way to escape without the other guards killing him.
The film is suffused with an air of despair and desperation — when we see the guards off duty it’s either early dawn or already dark and cold, and the steel mill is full of shadows and decay. Even Ty’s house isn’t much of a refuge, as young Jimmy has taken to practicing his tagging skills on the inside walls. But in that darkness the relationships among the characters shine. Mike is Ty’s godfather and cares about him. The guards form a of brotherhood, laughing and joking around when they’re not out on a run moving cash. Everyone looks at least a little scruffy or tired, but they’re a family, and they look out for each other. At least, until the threat of death or jail time is hanging in the air.
The actors all turn in solid performances; Short makes Hackett believable as both a hero and an ordinary man. It’s a pleasure to see Fishburne disappear into his role as thoroughly as he does. Matt Dillon seems to have made a career untrustworthy creeps since his heartthrob days passed, and he puts the experience to good use, making Mike someone who totally has your back as long as he thinks you’re loyal to him.
Ultimately, “Armored” isn’t a brilliant, ground-breaking movie. But it’s not trying to be. It’s trying to be a solid thriller, and it succeeds. It’s not slick and polished. It involves a bank job, but it’s no “Ocean’s 11” and the central characters aren’t fast-talking wise guys. This is a film about ordinary guys in extraordinary circumstances, and who is able to do the right thing and who isn’t.