I recently began the review of a film based on a novelette by criticising the scriptwriters and director for failing to ditch the poor-quality source material and put together a decent film for a modern audience. This film is the mirror image being a really good version of an even better short novel. Welcome to the world of the police procedural as seen through the eyes of Ken Bruen. He’s an Irish writer, more often in the old school style we call hardboiled. In some senses, he also throws in noirish elements. Yes, this combination usually refers to PI stories of an American ilk but, with the Jack Taylor series, we’re somewhat improbably transplanted to Galway where, it turns out, people are just as violent and dangerous as on the mean streets of a random US city.
Another series considers the working partnership of DS Tom Brant and CI James Roberts in London. After the so-called While Trilogy — A White Arrest, Taming the Alien and The McDead — Blitz appeared in 2002. This is the second of Ken Bruen’s books to be turned into a film, the first being London Boulevard starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightly. This is a free-standing novel, the film being in a similar spirit to, but rather better than, The Bodyguard starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.
This version of Blitz stays more or less faithful to the novel in that the sociopathic Barry Weiss (Aidan Gillen) takes it into his head to start killing police officers, and our team of Brant and Roberts are given the task of tracking him down. It’s interesting to watch Jason Statham without the usual flamboyance. He’s as violent as in the majority of his other films, but this has a more naturalistic feel with the script giving him the chance to show how and why he has ended up as lethal as the man he’s chasing. In many ways, this is an impressive performance and it’s a nice counterpart to Paddy Considine who rather plays against type as the gay Chief Inspector. Thus, for different reasons, both officers are the subject of disapproval: Brant because his violent exploits get written up in the local newspapers and give the police a bad name, and Roberts because of his sexuality. There’s real on-screen chemistry between the pair and this helps lift the film above the merely average British police procedural level. The other impressive element is the subplot involving the young Elizabeth Falls played by Zawe Ashton. This character came out of the White Trilogy in something of a mess. Having worked undercover, she’s just out of rehab for a serious addiction problem, and is struggling to cope with life. I’m not wholly convinced by the behaviour of DI Craig Stokes (Luke Evans), but with the only help coming from Stokes and Brant, her isolation in the community is entirely realistic.
Aidan Gillen, more recently seen in Game of Thrones as Petyr Baelish, is wonderfully narcissistic as the killer — he names himself Blitz, strutting and preening when given the chance, but also displaying a pleasing malevolence when called to violence. Without a strong performance, the film would have lacked balance. With him and the venal informer Radnor (Ned Dennehy) dancing attendance, even with his slightly damaged knee, we have a credible threat for our detectives to confront.
As to the plot, the first half of the film is nicely constructed and flows in a believable way. The second half, however, is riddled with unexplainable moments. Like once the detectives focus on Weiss as a suspect, why does it take so long for someone to read through his past criminal record? I suppose we can later guess who telephones Brant while he’s attending the funeral of CI James Robert (Mark Rylance), but everything that follows just becomes increasingly improbable. This is not to say the ending makes the film unsatisfactory. Once the police accept they have nothing more than circumstantial evidence and must let Weiss go, the ending is inevitable and emotionally satisfying. No-one would want a cold-blooded killer like Weiss left out on the streets. Yet, why is the evidence only circumstantial? There’s no proper attempt to search his flat for the bag that later turns up there, no voice print from the telephone recording they have of Blitz, no attempt to trace the money in his possession and whose fingerprints were on the envelope? Worse, the manner of the ending raises far more questions than the film chooses to answer. How could any police force cover this up? That said, this is a different ending from the novel and, on balance, I prefer the novel’s rather more understated but entirely understandable conclusion. Bruen’s ending certainly would be an unsolved crime.
Overall, the book is better because it deals with more of the politics of policing, describing the infighting between the officers in management and those at the sharp end who must go out and do the work. Nevertheless, this cuts down to the bare essentials of the plot and, with considerable verve from first-time director Elliott Lester, it carries through to the end, not allowing much time for thought (a good thing, in a way, given the film’s ending). There’s some verbal humour to leaven what would otherwise have been rather too grim — the knowing inclusion of several behavioural and action clichés also adds to the amusement. If you are offended by crude language and some explicit violence, then this is probably not for you. Otherwise, Blitz is a slightly obvious story told in a somewhat kinetic way. It’s worth seeing if you enjoy the British style of police procedurals/thrillers and can stop yourself analysing the film as you go along.