Fact: the armored car segment in 'Heat' is really, really awesome.
As simplistic as the setup is, there just aren't too damn many heist films revolving around armored vehicles. Banks create much higher tension, and have a much larger history concerning robberies, so they're usually the go-to. You say bank robber, and flashes of the legends who have graced the silver screen instantly come to mind. Ask someone their favorite bank robbery movie, and they may rattle off a number of films, many of which are truly great. Ask someone their favorite movie that involves an armored car, and prepare to get comments about the lousy 'Italian Job' remake. 'Armored,' released late in 2009, didn't shake up the box office, will probably be forgotten in a few months, won't show up on the list of the greatest heist movies ever made, and probably wont even get much mention in a discussion of armored vehicle movies, but at least it takes the simple set up and expands upon it, rather than using the trucks as a small side plot.
Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) just can't seem to hack it. The rookie armored truck employee for Eagle Shield is about to lose his home to the bank, and cannot keep a firm leash on his younger brother. Traumatized by his experiences in Iraq, the last thing he wants is violent confrontation. His coworkers (portrayed by Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco, and Skeet Ulrich) want to include Ty in a scheme to lift over forty million dollars from the trucks they drive, and promise him the plan will go off without a hitch. But when the first setback to the supposedly foolproof plan occurs, the men find themselves at odds with each other, and Ty, acting as the moral compass of the group, cannot let things go any further, creating an impasse that puts his life in jeopardy. The brief window in which the heist can be pulled off is closing fast, and tension is rising amongst the would-be robbers. These armored truck drivers want their money, and they won't let any man get in their way.
As much as I wanted to like 'Armored,' the story was just too amateur, spoon fed, and generic for my tastes. It was almost as weighty and impenetrable as the titular vehicles.
The cast is actually quite solid, though most of the actors are given very small roles, and not much face screen time (Reno, Dillon, Short, and Fisbhurne get the most attention). Milo Ventimiglia from 'Heroes' is the only big name that isn't in on the scam, but he's given absolutely nothing to do. He's just a recognizable face in the crowd. Short does a solid job in leading the ensemble, and is somewhat believable, and not too over the top in his expressions. Dillon and Reno? Well, there's a reason they're here, after all...
'Armored' gets flat tires far too often, when it runs over a silly thing called "logic." Honestly, I'm no criminal mastermind, but I could hire six junkies from outside a methadone clinic and have better success than the conspirators in this film. For example: the plot gets revealed to Ty just a day before it is to go down. That isn't exactly the time to recruit a new member into the scheme. At all. In fact, that's inviting disaster. He's not instantly sold on the idea....so why wait on him to see if he'll change his mind in one night. What if Ty says no and doesn't show, and they get some other Eagle Shield employee in their midst? Next, when shit goes awry, because, well, this shit always goes awry, the characters must have just schemed up this robbery the same day they pitched it to Ty, because it can't withstand a single hang up. It has to executed 100% right, or it 100% fails. No room for variables. Except, well, there was, as the one hour time window given in the film is about three to four times as much time as is needed to do such a simple job of moving money from outside a box into a hole. It's just the one variable that they couldn't control happened. So...did they not plan this out, really, and see how they would counter certain situations? They had to scout the area beforehand, so why didn't they put in tools or supplies that they'd need in case they encountered some of the more difficult potential scenarios? It takes a total freaking nimrod to not plot out numerous courses, when we're talking about more money than A-Rod makes in a year.
Director Nimród Antal (see, it did take a nimrod!) does a very nice job in crafting tension and a relatively trapped feeling, but the story by James V. Simpson trips over its own feet far too often. The setups are too predictable, with the dramas that happen (for example, the situation that makes Ty change his mind, coincidentally happening on the very same night that he's propositioned, or the first real mistake in the plan) failing to gain any sympathy from the viewer. Moves are telegraphed so far in advance that they may as well have a trivia track pop-up stating "pay attention to this guy right here!" for every character introduced out of the blue. They always come back to play a bigger part. The finale feels like a tacked on pile of rubbish, perfectly putting all the pieces together and giving a resolution that seems unlikely considering every single scene that came before it. A Deus Ex Machina, of sorts. While the ride may be fun if you leave your brain at home, lower your expectations, and take a pile of stupid pills, 'Armored' is thinner than aluminum foil where it really matters. Just play the fun scene from 'Heat' a few times in a row, and imagine that was the whole film, because fact: 'Armored' is far from bulletproof.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has packaged 'Armored' on a BD50 Dual Layer Disc that is set for Region Free playback. The disc has a few trailers before the menu, which are not skippable through the top menu button, featuring '2012,' 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,' a generic Sony BD promo, and an advertisement from tobaccofreeca.com. Seriously. This shit wasn't cool when Weinstein discs were loaded with the skewed mistruths and borderline terrorist actions found on the Truth commercials, and it really isn't cool here. I do not appreciate politics of any kind being advertised on my Blu-ray discs. These advertisements do about as much as those annoying "don't pirate movie" trailers that are found on store bought DVDs: they piss me off, and make me want to set up a head shop that sells pirated movies on the side. That'll teach 'em.
'Armored' comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) that isn't bad by any means, but it does have a few issues that prevent it from being top tier material.
Detail is utterly fantastic from the opening scenes, and the majority of the film is much in line with this quality. The few softer shots aren't that much a deterrent, though they were frustrating due to how very dissimilar they were to the normal picture. Close ups were to die for, particularly the brutal look at Laurence Fishburne's face, which makes the moon look smooth. The detail in the panels on the armored trucks were fun, with wear and tear all over, growing as the film went, while the grime and decay in the main set was clear and crisp, with rust showing up in even the tiniest of set pieces.
Aliasing is not a problem, not even in scenes that would normally be ripe for it. Edges are natural, as well, while artifacting in general was not a disturbance. Skin tones were varied, occasionally spot on and beautiful, while other times a bit red and overdone. The big problem with this release is the delineation, as there is a massive amount of crush from time to time, as blacks often just swallow themselves like a man eating his own head.
The audio for 'Armored' may be the most bulletproof portion of this release, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix going overboard more often than it plays it safe. A dub track is available in Parisian French, with subtitles for each language.
'Armored' has solid dynamic range, as highs and lows go very extreme at times, and sound fantastic in doing so. The soundtrack hits all speakers from the get go, and, well, it can get a bit loud, when it wants, with a low end that can get down a little, or down so far it needs to be shoveled back up. Armored cars have serious rumble when the engines are started, a nice little silly gimmick. Dialogue is usually clear, though there are a few scenes where it can get drowned out, and one moment, with an incredibly heavy moment of music, that it is completely lost. It may be intentional, but you can hear the hollow casings of where words should have been. Movement effects are nice, though somewhat underutilized, while directionality is sound. Rear ambience can be a bit soft, for my taste, and while the film can go absolutely ballistic, there are far too many gaps in between. This track is passable, enjoyable, and built like an armored truck (yeah, yeah), but it isn't demo material.
Enjoy this lump of coal, as every extra beyond the commentary can be pretty damn grating and commercial.
'Armored' didn't make me decry cinema by any means, and it didn't leave me harboring ill will towards any of the men and women involved, but it didn't leave me satisfied, either. With this cast involved, it should have been something special. This Blu-ray is fairly special, with pretty damn good audio and video qualities, but a pedestrian pile of extras that are more fluff than your average Build-A-Bear. This one is worth a look, but it's a fairly risky blind buy.