While director Nimrod Antal may not be Hollywood’s go-to guy for genre films, all three of his feature projects have a hard emotional core that makes them all deeply personal and sometimes even exceptional. Armored, his third feature, does not boast the potency of Vacancy, a tense and surprisingly thoughtful slasher flick, but it does feature Antal’s characteristic emphasis on his characters rather than the situations into which they’re thrust. Here Antal and first-time screenwriter James V. Simpson give the western an urban tint, focusing on a bunch of downtrodden armored truck drivers that plan to rob themselves until the one guy among them that listens to his conscious stops them. Simpson’s script may prove his inexperience, unnecessarily piling on cliché after cliché during the film’s setup, but what carries the film through is its momentum and the way Antal lets his eclectic cast bear its emotional brunt.
The film’s man-against-the-world is Ty Hackett (Columbus Short), a decorated soldier turned wage slave with a delinquent brother (Andre Kinney) in high school to support and a mortgage that’s way past due. His buddy Mike (Matt Dillon) tries to convince him that the best thing for him and the rest of their crew at work would be to take a little something for themselves and be true to each other by stealing from their employers. As in westerns like High Noon and 3:10 to Yuma, the potential threat of betrayal is what concerns both the good and the bad guys most. Mike and Ty’s work buddies are more like a gang than colleagues: Their heist is about them first and then their take. By the end, once the ties that bind them are thoroughly severed, Ty isn’t even protecting the money anymore, torching a good amount of it to save his skin. To the last man standing, the spoils.
Antal and Simpson run into trouble when it comes to fleshing out that admirably complicated sense of frail, blue-collar camaraderie. The film’s indomitable pace prevents the plot from slowing down long enough to allow some of its tension to sink in, depriving some of its key shock of any kind of staying power. Though Armored is about the unraveling of the group’s sense of security, many of its broader beats just don’t cut deep enough.
Still, while you may not believe the words Simpson puts in his characters’ mouths, the actors saying them are nothing if not convincing. The entire supporting cast is picked with care and includes some of the most entertaining generic familiar faces, from Armaury Nolasco to Jean Reno. More importantly, the animosity between Dillon and Short is palpable. The two share some surprisingly subtle chemistry, like when Mike first tells Ty of the plan and Short can be seen responding to Dillon without expressively reacting to what he’s telling him beyond his more-than-credible shock. Antal knows how much the film requires of them and acknowledges this by making their last exchange boil down to a couple of incredulous stares. There’s nothing to be said by that point, proving in just a couple of seconds that the movie belongs to them.