Note: The writer of this review watched Wrath Of Man on a digital screener from home. Before making the decision to see it—or any other film—in a movie theater, please consider the health risks involved. Here’s an interview on the matter with scientific experts.
Is making movies about blokes threatening to shoot each other, and sometimes actually shooting each other, an act of penance for Guy Ritchie? After spending a decade as a franchise man, starting one hit series and failing to start two more, Ritchie scored his biggest hit ever with the Aladdin remake—and promptly went back to basics. Make that very promptly: Aladdin came out two years ago, and he’s already made two R-rated crime movies, with another one not just threatening to shoot but already shot. If The Gentlemen was Ritchie’s attempt to recapture the lads-being-lads joshing of his Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels days, Wrath Of Man feels more like a lost Jason Statham vehicle he never got around to directing circa 2010 or so.
Statham, abandoning the jocular, winking tone of his Fast And Furious movies, rededicates himself to glowering as Patrick Hill, mostly referred to as “H.” H is first seen in a job interview at a cash-truck outfit, and he’s soon ushered into training by veteran driver Bullet (Holt McCallany). The job requires this Jason Statham character to achieve proficiency at a bunch of Jason Statham skills: driving, shooting, and withstanding homophobic banter from the men’s-men (and one woman) already on the job. It’s a tough one; in this movie’s telling, armored cars are robbed with alarming regularity. (Then again, in this movie’s telling, Black Friday—traditionally the day after Thanksgiving, no?—is also a day when children head to school.) Though Wrath takes place in Los Angeles, a Ritchian Englishness persists with American characters nicknamed things like Hollow Bob, Sticky John, or Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, making yet another return to his origins as a handsome dirtbag).
Despite the monikers begging for a series of freeze-frame introductions, Wrath Of Man avoids the capering of Lock, Stock or Snatch. H has a dark ulterior motive for pursuing this particular gig. If the movie itself holds these revelations back for a while, it still offers an unsubtle clue right in the title, which may be Ritchie’s idea of a rich biblical allusion. Yet Wrath Of Man isn’t exactly a character-study meditation on the cost of vengeance; halfway through, the screenplay, adapted from a French film called Cash Truck, adds enough characters for a wannabe Los Angeles crime saga. It’s no Heat, or The Limey, or Destroyer, but it’s not too far from Den Of Thieves in terms of its cheap, muscular thrills: a dual track of Statham’s solo investigations and a rag-tag team planning a heist.
For much of the film, Ritchie appears to be getting back to basics he rarely actually practiced in the first place, applying his visual flashiness to longer takes that explore the geography of the armored-car station and depict the opening cash-truck robbery entirely from the inside of the vehicle. (Never one to let things be, Ritchie does later revisit that robbery from multiple angles.) There are other moments that hint menacingly at the somber nonsense of Revolver, the leaden Kabbalah tract that last paired Statham and Ritchie. Wrath Of Man isn’t seeded with any woo-woo numerology—just a pervasive sense that with enough intertitles, overwritten dialogue, and pounding, ominous notes in the score, its emptiness will somehow achieve greater weight than mere pulp.
That faith isn’t entirely misplaced; the movie does have Statham as its center of gravity, after all. It’s been a while since he’s driven a vehicle this handsomely nasty, with enough bloody, sweaty support from McCallany, Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, and Scott Eastwood to complement his minimalism. There’s satisfaction in the way Statham’s performances haven’t changed all that much over the past decade—in watching him continue to hard-boil his style, leaving only the smallest glimmers of emotion. As a result, his most casually violent actions often feel carefully considered. (And lest anyone think that Stath has lost interest in endearing himself to audiences the world over, he also makes quick work of a character played by Post Malone.)
Statham’s status as a shiny hard-boiled egg might explain the thinness of the movie surrounding him: It’s ultimately just water. The Gentlemen, doofy as it was, had clear utility as far as Ritchie shaking off his big-studio responsibilities to have fun. Wrath is also fun, after a fashion, only with the grim undercurrent of a movie more interested in generating violence than truly motivating it. This is especially true in the second half, when Ritchie offers solutions to a mystery that never really had any viable suspects. His respite from the modern blockbuster life ends up demonstrating why he’s such a good fit for it: Even at his most restrained, Ritchie is a filmmaker in constant motion, zipping along until he hits a dead end.