The inside job heist of $42 million from an armored truck doesn’t offer much as the premise of a movie. And even though the film offers a few credible performances, the story and characters director Nimrod Antal presents in “Armored”, written by James V. Simpson, doesn’t do much to change our expectations.
Antal presents a predictable cross section of security guards you’d see in similarly set up films. They’re hard men, physically imposing, not a little coarse; and it’s likely that if they weren’t on the side of the good guys then they’d be the guys robbing the trucks. There’s a hulk of a guy, Baines (Laurence Fishburne), who achieved notoriety by taking out five would-be robbers after his partner was wounded. There’s Palmer (Amaury Nolasco), a born-again Christian with prison tattoos who constantly reads the Bible. There are a family man, Dobbs (Skeet Ulrich) and a too-underdeveloped Quinn, played by Jean Reno. There’s Mike Cochrone (Matt Dillon) who’s the godfather of Ty Hackett (Columbus Short), a decorated Iraq War veteran and newly-minted guard. They’re a tight, cohesive group, comfortably putting their lives on the line each time they go out, comfortably rehashing stories in the bar after work. They’re not above practical jokes. They don’t make much money but it is all they have, this job, these comrades.
You think they’re trustworthy. Ty embodies these traits to a tee. But then, coming as no surprise, Mike plans a heist, ostensibly to help Ty, who’s having trouble holding onto his house and taking car of his truant though airbrush-proficient brother, Jimmy (Andre Kinney). Ty reluctantly agrees, after a visit from a child welfare officer. The operation is supposed to be seamless, i.e., no bloodshed, which of course doesn’t happen. And of course Ty saves a wounded cop’s life. And of course the brothers turn on each other; and of course there’s only one man standing at the end. And of course Ty gets a reward, which will presumably get him out of his financial bind.
Antal effectively stages the movie with a noir-seeking eye. The scenes are shot in dilapidated neighborhoods and even more dilapidated warehouses. And whether or not Matt Dillon’s face is structured to capture shadows, it does so quite dramatically in almost all his takes. All this contrasts nicely with the relative stark sterility of the few scenes shot in the Fort Knox-esque banks.
But though the pacing doesn’t flag, the story doesn’t offer any surprises. From the moment when Duncan Ashcroft (Fred Ward) welcomes Ty onto the force – and this happens in an awkward pause – and emphasizes his honorable service in the Middle East – you just know that, whatever happens, Ty is going to come out fine. His character, though, is too flat: recently orphaned, trying to make ends meet, struggling to keep his younger brother on the right side of the law, there’s no edge to him. There’s no reason to suspect that perhaps he is going to willingly participate in the robbery, that there is a dark side to him. The episode in which decides to participate – he comes home to find a social worker threatening to put Jimmy in a foster home – is so unconvincing that it’s almost insulting.
The fracas that ensues after a homeless guy is killed and a cop is shot could have provided more dramatic support, but it didn’t: it read more like a formulaic solution to a problem, not something organic that developed out of the characters’ personalities and the situations in which they found themselves.
There are some heroic scenes where Ty tries to save the wounded cop, but they’re mechanically, not dramatically effective. There’s no doubt that a kernel of drama resides in “Armored,” it’s just that Antal doesn’t let it grow.