Heist film ‘Armored’ is a no-frills thriller
“Armored’’ didn’t screen for critics, which shows you how much studio marketing departments know: This is exactly the kind of lean, unpretentious B-thriller that people who watch movies for a living tend to appreciate, even if paying audiences no longer do.
A heist flick set inside and around a pair of armored trucks, the film further establishes the American-born Hungarian director Nimród Antal as a no-frills, no-bull craftsman to be reckoned with. Working from first-time writer James V. Simpson’s screenplay, Antal establishes a camaraderie of men - the trucks’ crew of armed guards - and watches as corruption spreads like a cancer from one to the next.
Ty Hackett (Columbus Short), a new recruit to Eagle Security, is just back from Iraq and caring for his troubled teenage brother as the bank forecloses in. The hero has a wealth of reasons to join the others in faking the robbery of $42 million from their own trucks, but whatever he saw overseas - the film’s smart enough to let it lie - it has shaken him straight.
There are no bad guys so no one’s gonna get hurt, swears Cochrane (Matt Dillon), the sly brains of the group. Some promises are made to be broken, obviously. No sooner have the trucks diverted into an abandoned warehouse than blood is drawn and “Armored’’ settles into an extended standoff with Hackett locked inside one of the trucks.
The filmmakers have obviously seen “Assault on Precinct 13’’ and other siege-movie classics. They throw in enough variations to keep things moving and to (mostly) prevent audiences from noticing the story’s gaping implausibilities - for one, a 36-minute ticking-clock deadline that takes an hour of screen time to resolve. For another: Don’t armored cars all have GPS by now?
No matter. As he did in the taut, uneasy motel-hell movie “Vacancy’’ (2007), Antal roots his suspense in character and slow-boil conflict rather than over-edited action sequences. The dynamic between Dillon’s Cochrane and Laurence Fishburne’s Blaine, the group’s hulking, alcoholic triggerman, sets “Armored’’ on edge, and Skeet Ulrich provides extra value as the scaredy-cat member of the gang. (It’s the old Elisha Cook Jr. role.)
A movie like “Armored’’ has been done better in the past. But it has also been done much, much worse, and Antal knows enough not to mess with the sturdy bones of the thing. Based on “Vacancy’’ and this movie, I’d say he was ready for bigger budgets, and in fact he’s currently directing “Predators,’’ one of next summer’s hoped-for top guns. If he can hold on to the small pleasures of his gift for moviemaking, it may be something to see.