Joey and Cristina
Redemption is the story of Joey, an ex-Special Forces soldier, who completes a horrific turn of duty in Afghanistan and, like many real world veterans, finds himself living on the streets when he returns home. Desperate to escape his conscience and the nightmares that haunt him, Joey turns to drink and drugs and is subjected to the constant dog-eat-dog stress of life on the streets.
"He's called Joey Jones because he's sort of an everyman," explains Knight. "He's not extraordinary in the sense of any gifts he has. He's an ordinary working class Englishman who joined up and fought in a war as men have been doing for hundreds of years, and he's come home and found himself unable to adjust, as has happened throughout history. He's sacrificed himself for his country. And when he comes back, he finds himself completely adrift."
When it came time to cast their lead actor, the filmmaking team knew they had to find someone who could convincingly capture Joey's haunted quality while still fulfilling the duties of an action hero. British actor Jason Statham, the worldwide box-office star who is known for his leading roles in films such as Safe, Killer Elite, The Expendables, Crank, Bank Job and Transporter, emerged as their ideal choice. Physically, Statham has more than proven himself as an action star, with a talent for turning on-set choreographed stunts and fights into compellingly real combat. Producer Guy Heeley explains, "Jason is an incredible athlete and he doesn't use a stunt double, which means we were able to shoot the big action scenes very easily with him. He's the most proficient person on set. He just comes in, learns the action very, very quickly and improves it with each take."
Beyond the physical demands of the role, however, the part appealed to Statham for the opportunity to broaden his range as an actor. Joey's struggles with PTSD and his emotional relationship with Sister Cristina are just two of the many intriguing facets of this multi-dimensional role. "The script is the best thing I've ever read, without a shadow of a doubt," avows Statham. "It's just full of so many things that I never get an opportunity to play." While Statham admits that he was initially intimidated by the part, he tackled the challenge with an athlete's discipline and relied on his considerable experience in front of the camera. "You're always anxious if you're about to do something you haven't done before. You're testing yourself. But that's what makes it so rewarding. Ultimately, it's all down to experience. I don't think I could have done something as heavy as this in my former years. I didn't have the experience to draw from."
"Jason has got a particular presence about him that makes it absolutely believable that he is this character," says Knight. "I went to see him in Miami because he was filming down there, and it was fantastic because he loved the script, he was so hungry to do something like this, and I was so keen that we work together, and it was wonderful. He was so committed to doing the research, to meeting homeless people, meeting ex-forces people, and really getting the character right. His dedication pays dividends on screen."
At the beginning of Redemption, Joey breaks into someone's home to escape from an assailant, only to stumble into a luxurious, empty apartment and a stranger's identity he can safely borrow for three months' time. The opportunity becomes a pivotal turning point in Joey's life. Knight explains, "The deeds that Joey's done are done, and he's on the street because he thinks he deserves to be on the street. He's not asking for anyone to hear his story and say, 'It's okay. It wasn't your fault.' It is his fault. So what do you do next? What is Joey's motivation to do anything? He just drinks and he sleeps on the street. So that's where we find him and what we're trying to do with the character is examine how he finds a reason to change, to do something else, to carry on."
Joey cleans up his appearance, cuts his hair, and stops drinking and taking drugs. He borrows clothes from the apartment's owner and saves as much cash as he can through his work in Chinatown, initially as a porter and later as an enforcer. Joey also undergoes a moral awakening, even if it's complicated by the violent exigencies of his job. He uses the money he makes to buy food for the homeless community and to give to his ex-partner and his young daughter. Explains Statham, "On the face of it, he's done bad things. But he comes out of that and starts to do good things, maybe for the wrong reasons in some people's eyes, but for him it's a pure reason of goodness. There's nothing to cloud that clear vision. And I think there's a real heart to where he's been driven."
Vicky McClure, who plays Dawn, Joey's ex-partner, observes that Joey's newfound sense of responsibility and justice might be a result of his traumatic wartime experiences. "Joey's trying to do right because of all the stuff that's gone wrong, and everything that he's gone through, and he goes out and gets all this money for his daughter. And there's a lot to be said for that, what your kids mean to you and how people can change, and how you're affected by the experiences you've been through."
Producer Paul Webster sees Joey's emotional predicament -- the desire to rectify his wrongs while committing to a life of criminal violence -- as the tragic aspect of this hero. "Joey Jones, particularly how Jason Statham portrays him, is an archetype. He's a mythic character," says Webster. "He does very violent things but always with positive consequences. So there's an ambiguity and humanity to Joey that we see peeking through the tough-guy exterior, and we realise he's a deeply sensitive and deeply damaged man. He's a mirror to us all, really. He's there to act as a reflection of our own behaviour -- the good and the bad."
The question of Joey's redemption, and whether his actions are bringing him nearer to or further away from the justice he's seeking, hangs provocatively over his story. In one early scene, Joey experiences a waking nightmare in which he imagines there's a hummingbird inside the apartment where he's squatting. "A hummingbird is a generic term for a type of drone used in Afghanistan," explains Knight. "There's a popular myth amongst soldiers that there are tiny drones the size of insects that can see everything, so I put a hummingbird in the film to represent the all-seeing eye that witnesses our actions, just like a surveillance drone. I liked the concept of Joey feeling that he is being observed, but in reality the only observer is inside his own head. Joey is coming to terms with what he's done. The hummingbird in my mind represents the observation of one's self and one's past deeds and how you respond to that."
Joey also wants to find and help Isabel, the girl he was involved with when he was homeless who has recently gone missing; his search leads him to Sister Cristina, the Eastern European nun who runs a soup kitchen and shelter Joey and Isabel used to frequent. Though on the surface Joey and Cristina appear to have nothing in common, she's also an outsider haunted by her past, a fact she tries to hide beneath a placid life of service and renunciation. These two lost souls, whose dreams of conventional happiness have been abandoned, recognize each other and form an unexpected, emotionally fraught allegiance.
When it came to casting the role of Cristina, Knight felt authenticity, rather than recognisability, was the most important factor. He explains, "I wanted someone who from the moment you saw this person, you felt that's exactly who they were, and I wanted that person to be genuinely Eastern European rather than doing an Eastern European accent, so we took a lot of time looking at a lot of actresses from Russia, the Ukraine and Poland. And I came across Agata Buzek and just felt that she was absolutely remarkable. So we flew her over to London and she did a test of a couple of the scenes and from then on I had no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that this was the person to play Cristina."
While Cristina initially appears strong and self-assured, the story eventually reveals just how much she's struggling. "There's a certain fight present in her and we meet her in the moment where everything is changing for her," says Agata Buzek. "Probably for the last fifteen or twenty years, she's just been running and trying to keep busy in order not to think. When we meet her it's a moment where she stops, where for the first time in her life she has the opportunity to think about the past, to realise what really happened and that it was not her fault."
Statham and Buzek had never met before they were cast in Redemption, but the mutual respect and trust they forged mirrored what their characters share on-screen. Says Heeley, "I enjoyed watching the Jason/Agata and the Cristina/Joey relationships form over the course of the shoot. Like the characters in the film, who discover they've got much more in common than they thought they had, Jason and Agata come from completely different spheres of the world of acting and film experience, yet they discovered they have much in common, too."
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