Wrath of Man (2021)
A one man army.
Guy Ritchie reunites with star Jason Statham to deliver a solid action thriller that verges on being a crime classic but just misses the mark mostly due to Statham’s lack of charisma in the lead role and a self-seriousness that often works against the narrative flow to create a completely effective revenge action piece.
Adapting Nicolas Boukhrief’s French film Cash Truck (2004), Ritchie sets his work in the United States. Patrick “H” Hill (Jason Statham) is a new recruit to a security firm, Fortico Security, that deals with armored vans and money transfers. “H,” as he is termed by his mentor Bullet (Holt McCallany), is a no-nonsense guy. He’s not afraid of being unpopular amongst his workmates who, to be fair, aren’t a particularly pleasant bunch. The security firm was dealt a crushing blow with a professional theft that took the lives of two van operators and one civilian. It’s not really a spoiler to reveal that the civilian was H’s son, Dougie (Eli Brown). H himself was seriously wounded in the robbery and, after several surgeries, made it his mission to track down those who took his son’s life.
H also isn’t just a guy off the street. He’s a crime lord that wields power and influence with organizations, including the feds. After trying to find the perpetrators of the robbery and murder through his organization (leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him), H realizes that the only way to get justice is to find the inside man who obviously helped the crew to attack the truck.
It doesn’t take long for H’s truck to be held up. H is in the cab with co-worker Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett). Bullet is being held hostage by the robbers, and Boy Sweat Dave (Ritchie’s character naming conventions still in play from his earlier films) thinks it’s best if they just drive off and leave Bullet. H, of course, won’t leave a man behind. More importantly, he has the opportunity to see if this is the crew that killed his son. In a precise action sequence, H dispatches the thieves with expert marksmanship. If anyone was questioning his ability to do the job, the answer is clearly stated that he’s a force to be reckoned with. Management promotes H, but his co-workers feel something isn’t quite right with the new recruit.
Flashing back and forth from the past to the present, the audience is introduced to the crew responsible for the death of H’s son. They’re ex-military men who feel disenfranchised after their return from active duty. Led with efficiency by ex-Sergeant Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) and housing a crack team that includes wild-card Jan (Scott Eastwood), the crew come up with increasingly complex jobs that will net them huge financial scores. Ritchie, unfortunately, telegraphs a little too much information in his screenplay (which he penned with both Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson). It’s not hard to see where all this is going to lead. Yes, of course, there will be the showdown with H, but the fallout that follows is sadly obvious.
Whilst the script and characterization aren’t the film’s best elements, the work is almost impeccably shot. Gone are the furious edits that dominated Ritchie’s earlier works. There’s a maturity to the direction that gives the film a polished look and feel. The cinematography by Alan Stewart, Aladdin (2019), is measured and mature. In short, the film looks fantastic. The action sequences are shot with room to breathe and plenty of scope for the audience to gain the full impact of what is going on on-screen.
What lets the film down the most, other than some obvious telegraphing in the script, is Jason Statham’s performance. Audiences don’t mind rooting for a morally ambiguous hero, especially if he is justified in his actions — see Keanu Reeves’ John Wick as a prime example. H is looking for revenge, and we can get on board with that. What’s harder to connect with is his lack of characterization. He’s a hard man on a mission, and that’s about it. There is a lack of gravitas to H because he is so one-note. Statham has proven that he can be the hard man and still exude some complexity. H feels distinctly underwritten, but then so too do many of the other characters in the film. For those just looking for action, the movie delivers, but for those who want the action to have characters who aren’t basic ciphers, Ritchie’s work will let them down.
Somewhere inside Wrath of Man is a great film waiting to emerge, but it just never quite gets there. Technically it’s an impressive piece, but it lacks a tightly written script with a lead that the audience can really get behind. In the pantheon of Ritchie films, Wrath of Man sits somewhere in the middle. It isn’t as entertaining as his previous film The Gentlemen (2019), nor is it as funny and clever as his early works like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). It’s also not as bad as his misfires, such as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) or the reboot of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015). Still, a mid-tier Ritchie film does have its pleasures, and those seeking some solid action set pieces won’t be disappointed.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Nadine Whitney
Wrath of Man is released through Studio Canal Australia