The delicate planning scenario (The Great Train Robbery, Rififi), the humorous spin (Small Time Crooks, Quick Change), the hidden master plan (Inside Man, The Lookout), the crew of hardened professionals (Ronin, Heat), the sexy, over-the-top robbery (Oceans 12, The Italian Job), and the aftermath (Reservoir Dogs); these are the six core orbits almost all heist films fall into. If one were to draw a Venn diagram depicting the overlap between the six circles, Nimrod Antal's Armored would land almost exclusively in the aftermath category. There's no planning involved, no comic relief, no last minute twist, no grandiose kidnapping, no inkling of men with enough skill to count how many exits there are from any room they're in.
No, Armored is a simple story of a group of blue collar workers who ferry millions in cash to and fro for an armored transport escort service and decide one day that they're going to rob themselves during a staged, fake heist, making away with the bank's insured $42 million. As with all heist films, however, things do not go as planned, and so the audience spends the bulk of the picture post-heist in the midst of the bloody consequence stage of what was supposed to be a bloodless operation.
Now to say that Armored has no extended planning sequence or no grand scheme is not to say that it is lacking such machinations, rather they were not required by the story at hand. And though this may turn off viewers who are accustomed to seeing the What, Where, When, and How thoroughly established before hand, it's not a problem for Nimrod Antal, who manages to transform a simple story into an engaging 88 minutes by spending all of his time on the Who and the Why. The trailers may have potential viewers believing Armored is going to be an explosion-packed thrill ride that follows a group of sympathetic Joe Schmoes making off like bandits, but that's not what Antal has delivered; and that is actually a good thing.
James V. Simpson's script initially hints that it may be heading in that direction, though, as we come to learn of the dire situation that befalls Ty Hackett (Columbus Short), an Iraq war veteran who is now responsible for his younger brother's well being after their parents died earlier in the year. Balancing work life with family life is hard enough as it is, but making matters worse is a bank hungry to reposes Hackett's parent's house. It's a bit melodramatic, but it works as proper motivation for Hackett to acquiesce to co-worker and friend Mike Cochrone's (Matt Dillon) surprise plan to stage a fake heist with fellow jaded workers Quinn (Jean Reno), Baines (Laurence Fishburne), Palmer (Amuary Nolasco), and Dobbs (Skeet Ulrich). Things start off smoothly, after all, it's pretty easy to steal $42 million when someone volunteers it, but an unexpected bit of bloodshed is enough to snap the already reluctant Hackett back to his law-abiding senses, throwing one hell of a wrench into the plans of all his friends.
Sure, there's one or two moments of Hollywood-esque chase sequence flash-and-awe, but for the most part Armored is content letting its characters stew in the intensity of their own moral dilemma as the remaining (and now murderous) crooks try to find ways to break into the armored truck Hackett has locked himself and the remaining $21 million into. And it all works well enough thanks to Antal, a director who clearly spends more time on set talking to his actors than he does the pyrotechnician. Armored is 100% driven by its characters, each of whom make the most of their equally-divided screen time.
One would think a big name like Laurence Fishburne would be taking over one of the more pivotal roles, but he's given the same emotional treatment as every man-over-their-head in the crew. The biggest surprise to be found is actually in Columbus Short. The young actor has been mostly relegated to supporting roles so far, but there's little doubt that Armored will end up being a turning point for his career, regardless if Screen Gems has a box office hit on their hands. The movie is anchored squarely on his shoulders and never once does he betray anything less than leading man mettle.
Unfortunately, however, his consistently empathetic performance also falls in line with expectations for how things will be wrapped up by the time credits role. A more ambitious script could have done a better job at balancing what characters are in limbo, but even still, the highs and lows on the way to the movie's end are thrilling enough to overcome any plot predictions. Aside from that minor scripting complaint and a score that's a little overbearing during some of the action-less scenes, Armored is an above average entry that takes a defiant step away from the glamorous approach Hollywood often adopts when making a heist film.