People don’t seem to want movies about dirty cops anymore. Like musicals and slapstick comedies, they’ve been consigned to memory, for the most part. Whereas, in the 80s, every third movie featured a flinty-eyed psychopath with a badge and a gun; nowadays, the likes of Michael Douglas in Black Rain, or Bruce Willis in just about anything… appear quaint in their refusal to curb their outmoded ways. We laugh now at Mel Gibson’s twitchy ’Nam vet in Lethal Weapon. But time was; he was the epitome of cool. My guilty secret is that I absolutely love dirty cop movies. When Jason Statham wakes up and starts chugging whisky in Blitz, the only thing that would’ve made me happier is if there was a saxophone on the soundtrack.
Every staple of the dirty cop movie is present in Blitz. The hero drinks the way a blue whale eats krill. He beats suspects with pool cues and Hurley sticks (“Hurling” being an Irish game that’s described, by Statham, as “a cross between hockey and murder”). He openly mocks and then physically intimidates a police therapist. And he’s on the hunt for a vicious, sadistic killer who’s hell-bent on murdering cops. If this was set in Japan, it would be Black Rain, and Michael Douglas would be chain-smoking and watching Andy Garcia die. As it is, we’re in London; Royal Shakespeare Company star Mark Rylance is the one being butchered, and Jason Statham is the alcoholic hard case who’s been assigned to “sort it awwwwt”.
The movie begins with Statham bludgeoning three teenagers. Welcome to London! (a caption ought to read). The city, as depicted here, is populated by psychopaths with badges and psychopaths without; there are also hoodies, perverts, nice polite gay men, and women police officers…who like to smoke crack. Suffice it to say, the London 2012 Olympics are unlikely to use Blitz in their promotional material. This is London as a hard man’s playground, with every cop in the Met incensed. Even the nice polite gay man claims to have castrated a suspected paedophile. He did this, presumably, just to fit in. No cop is ever charged with misconduct in this universe. We’re in Dirty Harry’s world. Vengeance falls like rain.
Aiden Gillen (who could sneer the last seven words of Christ) is perfect casting for a serial killer. He’s got the hardest eyes in cinema; and the sort of grin that makes you fear for your pets. When he tells the police: “I want a lawyer and a sandwich, and I want to update my Facebook status”, his lip-smacking delight at his own malevolence is palpable. Even the word “sandwich” seems depraved, when spat from Gillen’s lips. His character claims to have bought Michael Jackson’s excrement off eBay. He murders Mark Rylance with a hammer! Then vomits on the corpse! And he wears purple Y-fronts in bed (a fashion crime somehow worse than murder). And he struts around a gray and frosty London, proudly flaunting his hairless chest.
Jason Statham is practically obliged to murder Gillen. The movie gives him so many revenge motives; he might as well be Hamlet’s brother, binge-drinking in the car park at Elsinore. When the end comes for Aiden (I don’t think I’m giving much away in saying the dirty cop triumphs over the sadistic killer), sure enough, Statham treats his suspect the way a spoon treats an eggshell. A sub-plot involving a crack-addicted WPC gives Statham a chance to show-off his sensitive side, and when she (as good as) asks him to kick Gillen’s head-in, no-one should be surprised by what happens next. The epilogue, where Statham apparently murders a journalist for an encore, is the movie’s idea of a barbed social critique.
I enjoyed this movie, even though it might not sound like I did. It’s brash and stupid, but, as Michael Douglas says (in Black Rain): “Sometimes you should forget your head and grab your balls.” Movies about dirty cops aren’t meant to have nuanced characters or complex morality; they’re meant to have dodgy facial hair (for the heroes) and impotent threats of censure from senior officers. Killers are meant to be pleased with themselves. And they’re meant to carry an extra knife in their sock. (They don’t want to be taken alive, you lousy civil rights advocates.) Movies about dirty cops are men’s equivalent of trashy romances: full of alpha males and bad behaviour perused with relish. In this analogy, Jason Statham is Jackie Collins.