Armored doesn’t look like your typical anti-war film from Hollywood’s dream machine. The story of security guards stealing the loot they’re assigned to protect plays out far away from any Middle Eastern battlefield.
But you don’t have to look too closely to see an Iraq War slam or two mixed with the generic on-screen mayhem.
The new film, which landed in sixth place at the box office over the weekend, follows an Iraq War veteran who can’t raise enough funds to pay his mortgage. So he does what anyone would do in his position — swipe the money he’s assigned to guard along with his unsavory comrades.
Ty (Columbus Short) just got back from serving in the Iraq War, returning safe and sound and with a Silver Star in hand for his heroism. He finds work as a security guard in charge of armored transports, but the death of his parents has left him drowning in debt. And if he can’t scratch up enough money to pay off his bills, he could lose custody of his little brother.
The kid is a handful, skipping classes repeatedly and tagging the family kitchen with spray paint swiped from his school.
Ty’s fellow guards represent his new family, albeit a dysfunctional one which plays cruel practical jokes that would get its members booted from some fraternities. And, like any family, they want to help their own.
So they invite Ty in on a plan to steal $42 million they’re supposed to protect. The guards will blame the theft on fictitious robbers, and they’ll walk away with millions.
“No one will get hurt, right?” Ty asks Mike (Matt Dillon), his closest friend on the guard unit. Not a chance, Mike reassures him.
The Keystone Kops could pull off a caper better than these clods. Ty is left scrambling to shield himself from the shards of a plan blown to bits.
Armored focuses mainly on the heist, but the initial scenes let screenwriter James V. Simpson dabble in some expected conversations regarding war.
“You should be proud of what you did over there,” Mike tells Ty, to which he replies, “I’m not. A lot of innocent people died.”
And it’s hardly a shock to see former soldiers struggling financially upon their return.
Director Nimrod Antal (who previously gave us the effective Vacancy and is in charge of the forthcoming Predators) can’t make much out of Simpson’s screenplay, replete with such gems as “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”
“There’s no bad guys, there’s just us,” Mike says a little later on — a line the film keeps returning to with diminishing results.
So Antal distracts us with tight close-ups on everyone from the lead characters to supporting types like Fred Ward, cast as the avuncular chief of the security squad.
Armored gathers a bevy of familiar faces, all of whom have done far better work elsewhere, from Laurence Fishburne to Jean Reno. Fishburne glowers on autopilot, and American filmmakers seem incapable of giving the French actor a meaty role. The pair lend Armored a touch of much needed class, but little else.
Antal clearly isn’t the right director to bring out any depth in such a deep cast. He cues the characters’ emotional moments by repeatedly having various actors run their hands over their faces to tip off anguish or pain.
The lean plot gets right to the heart of the matter, but it does allow some time to establish the bond between the guards, a grab bag of personalities who rely on each other’s support to get the job done each day.
Naturally, said bond conveniently breaks when it’s time to steer the story toward its fiery conclusion.
Armored plays out in predictable fashion, but once the heist goes awry the film finds its footing. So, too, does Short, who makes an appealing everyman hero who taps creative solutions to some life and death scenarios.
Armored may dabble in anti-war diatribes, but ultimately it shows Ty as a man to be admired, a former soldier whose skills on the battlefield come in mighty handy. It’s no coincidence the film improves appreciably just when Ty starts falling back on his training — and his wits — to salvage the day.
Some of the recent anti-war films, like Lions for Lambs, spend so much time stating their case that they forget to entertain us. Armored takes a different approach. The movie uses an anti-war refrain to set its story in motion, but ultimately showcases a soldier’s strength and heroism in the explosive final reel.