Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Hummingbird (4 Stars)

This is the first film that was directed by Steven Knight, the screenwriter/director from my home town of Birmingham, who was also responsible for "Locke". It was renamed "Redemption" in the USA, but this name is totally wrong. As Steven Knight points out in the interview on the disc, "Joey is a character who feels he can't be forgiven, he doesn't deserve to be forgiven, and he isn't looking for forgiveness". If anything the American title should have been "No Redemption".

Joey Smith, codename Hummingbird, was a British soldier serving in Afghanistan. His squad of six soldiers was ambushed, and he was the only survivor. He reacted with an Eye For an Eye principle: "They killed five of ours, I'll kill five of theirs". Since he didn't know who had attacked his squad, he captured and executed five civilians at random. This resulted in him being sent home, where he was put into a mental hospital to be treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At some point he decided that he was mentally well again, but he didn't want to show it. The trouble was that as soon as he was deemed healthy he would have to face a court martial. So he bided his time until he had an opportunity to escape, and he went underground on the streets of London.

Joey's appearance and his way of life change. His hair grows long, he wears dirty clothes, he lives in a cardboard box on the streets, and he spends any money he gets from begging on alcohol. Drinking is a deliberate choice for him. When he's sober he does the only thing that he's good at, i.e. he fights and he kills. That's what he's been trained to do. When he's drunk he's docile and harmless.

One day in February he falls through the skylight into an apartment that will be empty until October while the owner, a successful artist, is working in New York. First he steals money, which he uses to buy more alcohol. Then he makes a large donation to the nun who runs the soup kitchen where he used to eat. She begs him to make a change in his life, so he sobers up. He changes his name to Joey Jones, and he gets a job at a Chinese restaurant. After being seen in a fight by his boss, who is also a local gangster, he is offered work as a driver and debt collector. Once more he's able to do what he's good at: fighting and killing. He begins to have romantic feelings for the nun, but a relationship isn't possible because she is, after all, a nun.

The nun wants him to stop being a gangster. Can he change? He already changed once for her, and the change made him a worse person. Is there any solution, apart from returning to the bottle?

Steven Knight says in his interview that when he did research on the homeless community in London he found out that about 10% of the homeless people are ex-soldiers. That's not what I saw when I was homeless. When I was homeless, in Birmingham, I found that about 50% of the homeless people were ex-soldiers. This is disgraceful. There should be follow up to prevent this happening to soldiers when they leave the army. It's not just a matter of them not having money. They're given an army pension, and most leave the army when they're still young enough to start a new career. It's more of a mental problem. After spending years living in barracks or tents with other soldiers they feel so lonely when they return to a so-called normal life. Sleeping alone in a room is strange. They feel more comfortable living on the streets where they can be close to others.

It's also difficult for an ex-soldier to carry out a normal job. In the army everything is about discipline. He's told what to do, and he obeys his orders to the letter. Creativity and initiative are not expected of him. All this changes in real jobs in the real world.

And then there's the killing. As I've been told by several people, some of them friends of mine, killing changes everything. It's true that soldiers are trained to kill because it's just a job, but nothing can protect a soldier from the emotional scar when he kills a person for the first time. If he carries on killing, each time he pulls the trigger it gets a bit easier. But when he leaves the army the day will come when he sits down and counts the people he has killed, and the nightmares begin.

In my opinion England's soldiers are our biggest heroes. They are the ones who put their lives at risk and abandon personal comfort to protect the rest of us. They are the ones who protect me. My father was in the Royal Air Force during World War Two, doing what he could to fight the evil forces who killed Jews. History repeats itself. Today's English soldiers are also sent abroad to fight people who are enemies of the Jews. But what happens when they come home? My father only served for four years, and he never saw active combat, so he returned home unscathed. My friend Brian Farmer returned home after 22 years in the army, and he was an emotional wreck, unable to do a normal day's work. 19 years later he was murdered in his own apartment by people he called his friends. The killers were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, but were they the only guilty ones? Those who neglected to look after him when he was alone and helpless in England share the guilt. Where were the doctors, the social workers and the army psychiatrists who could have helped him?

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