The Beekeeper and the welcome return of the occupation-based action film

occupation-based action in The Bricklayer
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With 2024 seeing the release of The Beekeeper and The Bricklayer, and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Le Jadinier on the way, we welcome the return of occupation-based action films.

To the best of our knowledge, there isn’t a film called Busman’s Holiday in the works, but if there were, it’d probably star Scott Adkins and tell the story of an ordinary bus driver (probably called Jake or Jack) who ends up beating up and shooting an entire army of hoodlums, baddies and gangsters. Possibly while still driving his bus.

This year has so far seen the release of The Bricklayer, Renny Harlin’s action-thriller about an ex-CIA agent named Vail (Aaron Eckhart) who retires and becomes a bricklayer. That is, until a shadowy network’s attempt to blackmail the agency coaxes Vail to put down his trowel and get back into the business of severely hurting people in the name of truth and justice.

Regrettably, we haven’t been able to see The Bricklayer yet – it was quietly placed in cinemas on the 5th January but doesn’t appear to have a UK release date – but the trailer at least promises everything we could want from a big, daft action flick. Lots of brutal action, explosions, and silly dialogue delivered with the straightest of faces.

“When I hold a brick in my hand,” Eckhart’s voiceover says, as footage shows his character building a wall on the top of a skyscraper for some reason, “I know exactly what it is and what it will do. Its form is its function – and that brings me peace.”


The Bricklayer follows a similar template to The Beekeeper, Jason Statham’s action vehicle released last week. Like Eckhart, Statham also plays a retired murder expert, Adam Clay, who spends his days happily tending to his hives and storing up jars of artisan honey. And like The Bricklayer, this film’s titular keeper of bees (don’t let ‘em get away!) is winkled out of retirement when the sweet old lady whose barn he lives in has her money taken by a gang of phishing scammers.

To say that Statham’s response to this injustice is disproportionate would be a massive, massive understatement. At one point, we thought he might end up killing everyone in the world, like an angry, punchy supernova.

Of course, two movies don’t make a trend, but consider this: on the 17th January, Variety broke the news that Jean-Claude Van Damme is to star in Le Jardinier, which it describes as a “high-voltage action comedy” directed by David Charhon, with whom JCVD made The Last Mercenary. Variety reports that the latter was a big hit for Netflix in 2021, and so Amazon Prime Video has already snapped up Le Jardinier for distribution in France.

You can probably guess Jean-Claude Van Damme’s job in the film if you were paying attention during your GCSE French lessons. The movie’s about a family who “turn up on the death list of government officials because they hold a state secret”. To save themselves, said family “come up with a plan involving their strange gardener, Leo.”

Let’s face it, having Van Damme as your gardener would feel pretty strange by itself.

It wouldn’t remotely surprise us if Van Damme’s gardener also happened to have a long, chequered past that involved beating people severely around the face and ribs. Filming will reportedly begin on Le Jardinier in early February.

The catalyst for this mini-wave of action films is almost certainly John Wick, which became an unexpectedly big hit for star Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski in 2014 and is still going strong almost a decade later (a spin-off, Ballerina, starring the immensely talented Ana de Armas, is out this year).

The Beekeeper certainly takes inspiration from John Wick, right down to its hero being a former member of a secretive, elite group of assassins (called the Beekeepers), and there are lots of fight scenes that take place in neon-bathed rooms, again like Wick.

Action films with protagonists who’ve turned away from a life of violence and embraced more mundane jobs, meanwhile, feels like more of a throwback to the glorious days of peak straight-to-video (and later DVD) genre fare. One entry that springs to mind is Driven To Kill (2009) in which Steven Seagal – who shot to fame by pretending to be a cook for a bit in 1995’s Under Siege – played a Russian gangster who decided to become a novelist.

Adopting the pen name Jim Vincent, Seagal’s hero paid the bills by writing pulp literature with titles like Hades Half Acre – but then, of course, he eventually has to use all his old bone-snapping skills when hoodlums start threatening his family. (Sample line from Seagal: “The trick is not to give a fuck.” His Booker prize is in the post.)

One film that more closely follows the 2024 model of putting the hero’s occupation up there in the title, though, is Dolph Lundgren’s The Mechanik (2005). In it, the Rocky IV star plays a former special forces soldier named Nikolai who’s switched careers and is now – you guessed it – a mechanic in Los Angeles. It’s not long, though, before Nikolai has shrugged off his greasy overalls and hopped on a plane to St Petersburg on a hybrid rescue-revenge mission.

All these films likely have their roots in the 1960s and 70s, long before the term ‘action film’ was widely used. Such films as Point Blank (1967), Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1970) and Dirty Harry (1971) helped set the grim, hard-edged tone that would be adopted and escalated by later filmmakers. James Bond may have been pivotal when it came to the crafting of action set-pieces, but it was arguably those American thrillers that paved the way for the brooding hero-on-a-rampage films we get today.

Nor should we forget Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974), adapted from the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. It provided a late-career hit for Charles Bronson, who – anticipating all those other films we’ve already talked about – played a mild-mannered architect who embarks on a vigilante campaign when his family’s attacked by a gang of low-lifes. Unpleasant though it was, the film was such a success that it became a long-running franchise for Bronson, much like John Wick is for Keanu Reeves.

More artfully made but no less hard-hitting was 1976’s Taxi Driver, which was a critical and financial hit for director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader. Although it’s far from an action film, it has a protagonist whose job is explained in the film’s title, and who, for his own dark reasons, goes on a violent rampage in the final reel.

Taxi Driver
The proto Beekeeper? Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. Credit: Columbia Pictures.

From time to time, Schrader still returns to stories about loners who eventually commit violent acts – and as he did with Taxi Driver, he puts their occupations in the title. The Card Counter (2021) stars Oscar Isaac as the titular gambler with a violent past; Master Gardener (2022) stars Joel Edgerton as the title’s expert horticulturist hiding from his own set of demons. Perhaps Van Damme watched the latter and took down some notes.

All of which is to say that this year’s small yet burgeoning crop of occupation-based action films has a long and meandering lineage, veering from classy yet controversial dramas to straight-to-DVD silliness. They’re wonderful things, though, action films; in all seriousness, this writer would argue they’re one of the purest forms of cinema. They require the technical ingenuity and planning of a classic Hollywood musical; the sharp, terse writing of the best pulp thrillers, and all the scowling charisma their stars can muster. Plus a dash of low-key, knowing humour – that always helps.

In The Beekeeper, Jason Statham despatches a villain by throwing a jar of honey at their head. Like we said, pure cinema. Here’s hoping someone, somewhere makes Busman’s Holiday a reality soon.

Occupation-based action in The Bricklayer. Yes, this is Aaron Eckhart pretending to build a wall. On a skyscraper roof. CINEMA. Credit: Millennium Media/Vertical Entertainment.
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