When a movie isn't screened for critics, it's often a sure sign that it stinks—but there are occasional exceptions. Case in point: Armored. There's no good reason why this little action drama should've been kept from critics. It's certainly nothing to rush out and see in the theaters, but it's at least worth a rental or televised viewing.

Like 1992's Trespass took inspiration from 1948's The Treasure of Sierra Madre, this movie similarly plays like a modern, urbanized western. Imagine a gang of bandits planning to steal from the stagecoach they're sworn to protect. But when it's time for the big heist, one of them decides he's into more than he bargained for. When he tries to do the right thing, the others turn against him. But with Armored, we're talking about security guards and armored trucks rather than cowboys and stagecoaches.

Columbus Short as Ty, Matt Dillon as Mike

Columbus Short as Ty, Matt Dillon as Mike

We meet our hero and villain right away without initially knowing which is which. Ty Hackett (relative newcomer Columbus Short) is a decorated Iraq War vet struggling with his teenaged brother Jimmy (Andre Jamal Kinney) to make ends meet. Ty's godfather and friend, Mike Cochrone (Matt Dillon), gets him work with his team of armored truck security guards, including Baines (Lawrence Fishburne), Quinn (Jean Reno), Cobbs (Skeet Ulrich), and Palmer (Amaury Nolasco). Ty's grateful because he's facing foreclosure on his home, and child welfare is threatening to place Jimmy in foster care if things don't improve.

But right when Ty earns his badge, Mike lets him in on a secret: His team is planning to rob the two trucks placed in their care on a day when the take is $42 million. They just need to know if Ty's on board with the heist. Ty is reluctant to do so, but $7 million would sure help pay the bills. Besides, Mike promises him that no one will get hurt, and "there are no bad guys" since they're the ones pulling the heist. All they have to do is stash the cash and fake a robbery in one hour's time. What could go wrong?

Well, it quickly does. Mike's promise is negated thanks to the violent actions of Baines, and before long, Ty has holed himself up in one of the trucks with half of the money—a classic standoff scenario. From there it's a race against the clock as the would-be thieves try to recover the money before their hour is up, while Ty tries to escape with his integrity and his life.

Mike and Baines (Laurence Fishburne) on the go

Mike and Baines (Laurence Fishburne) on the go

Nimród Antal, a relatively new director from Hungary, is quickly developing a reputation for smartly staged action driven by characters. The same holds true with Armored, a tight and compact little thriller that gets the job done in 90 minutes.

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I do wish the story spent more time establishing all the characters of Mike's security team, which would have helped create greater drama for their later showdowns. It might have also been more effective to show more of the nuances involved with armored truck security, which could have paid off with more intricate problem-solving, both in demonstrating what the thieves have to overcome and what Ty has to work with on the truck against those thieves.

Also, movies are rarely as intense and action-packed as the trailers suggest, so don't go into Armored thinking that it's Lethal Weapon. It's a little slow to start while setting everything in motion for the first 30 minutes, though I'd argue that it's time well spent on exposition. By the end of the movie, the action is comprised of only a couple car chases, an explosion or two, and several tense moments of people held at gunpoint. There's less violence than typical for a film like this—but there is one bloody gunshot wound that could cause the squeamish to squirm.

Jean Reno as Quinn

Jean Reno as Quinn

Armored does just enough to set up its pieces without becoming overly sidetracked, sticking closely to the matter at hand. Again, like a classic western, there's a slow build to the showdown at the conclusion; Armored is refreshing in its restraint, focusing instead on the tension of the characters and the scenario.

Westerns also typically focused on morality and ethical dilemmas; so does Armored. We understand why Ty does what he does, but we still know that it's wrong. As does Ty, which is why we root for him when he realizes he made a mistake and has to set things right—his situation is sympathetic to anyone who's having a hard time and tempted to do the wrong thing.

Armored boasts a decent cast of veterans and newcomers, and it's helmed by a very capable new director. But it feels like it was made on a shoestring budget due to the lack of buzz-worthy action and the cheap-sounding score. It's not quite good, but it's not bad either. Though Armored falls short of its potential—similar but better movies like The Treasure of Sierra Madre or Reservoir Dogs—at least it isn't inept or stupid. I guess you could say Armored is at a standoff with itself.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Discuss the temptation of money, not as much in terms of greed, but rather in creating a sense of security. How does it relate to Ty's situation at the start of Armored? Is it understandable that he'd be tempted to participate in the heist? If you had the chance, how would you convince someone as desperate as Ty to not join in the heist?

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  1. Would you say that the security guards trust each other as close friends? If so, what causes that trust to deteriorate? If not, what's lacking in their friendship?

  2. Ty tries to make amends for the crime by doing the right thing, even though it might cost him his life. As Christians, how are we called to do the same?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Armored is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence, some disturbing images, and brief strong language. There are a couple of bloody gunshots, one especially graphic as characters apply pressure to the wound, but not more so than in an episode of ER or House. Other characters are badly burned in an explosion, but nothing too graphic. The profanity includes misuse of God's name and one f-bomb, but it's not pervasive. Also, one of the thieves is introduced as a recent convert to Christianity, but he quickly lapses back to his old ways.

Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sequences of intense violence, some disturbing images, and brief strong language)
Directed By
Nimród Antal
Run Time
1 hour 28 minutes
Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne
Theatre Release
December 04, 2009 by Screen Gems/Sony Pictures
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