A film review by Craig J. Koban July 8, 2021

WRATH OF MAN jjj
 

2021, R, 118 mins.

Jason Statham as H  /  Alex Ferns as Sticky John  /  Holt McCallany as Bullet  /  Scott Eastwood as Jan  /  Jeffrey Donovan as Jackson  /  Laz Alonso as Carlos  /  Josh Hartnett as Dave 

Directed by Guy Ritchie  /  Written by Ritchie, Nicolas Boukhrief, Eric Besnard, Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson
 

 

 

 

There's no questioning right now that writer/director Guy Ritchie has definitely got his creative groove back.  

After wallowing in such mediocre fare as the live action ALADDIN remake or the thoroughly disposable KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD, the British filmmaker made a solid return to form with last year's THE GENTLEMEN, which was a crime caper cut from a very Ritchie-esque cloth, to be sure.  He now follows up that solid piece of crime fiction with WRATH OF MAN, a remake of the 2004 French film CASH TRUCK.  His latest endeavor contains many elements that helped to establish his stylistic milieu - ultra violence, a squadron of thuggish lowlifes, cocksure attitude - but it's refreshingly more restrained, somber and mature than most of the films on his resume.  That, and it also marks the long awaited re-teaming of Ritchie with star Jason Statham, both of whom previously worked together three times, the last of which being 2005's REVOLVER.  Statham is in utter command of his element in the picture, and combining that with a labyrinthine, time hoping scripting that's routinely enthralling makes WRATH OF MAN arguably one of Ritchie's best efforts and crime noirs in years. 

The film taps into quintessential Ritchie character archetypes: Seedy criminal bastards that are looking to one up and screw each other over, but to a whole other level.  Separated into four chapters with each one - in pure PULP FICTION fashion - interweaving within one another and later building to a narrative crescendo where all the players convene under highly violent circumstances,  Ritchie's scumbag opus is really two films for the price of one: A heist thriller and a revenge thriller.  We are quickly introduced to the main anti-hero in "H" (Statham, in pure grimacing poker faced mode) that has just taken a job as a driver/security guard for a fairly prestigious armored car company.  His main mentor figure is the veteran Bullet (Holt McCallany), who makes him go through a series of physical tests to ensure that he can get the job done that's called upon.  He forms a three-man crew with Bullet and the hot headed complainer that is Sweat Dave (an in-the-zone and delightful slimy Josh Hartnett), the latter of which doesn't think too kindly of having a Brit on the squad.  H makes a big name for himself, though, when he takes complete charge of a dire situation when his truck is targeted by attempted robbers, during which time he ruthlessly and easily murders these crooks with a Terminator-like efficiency.  This creeps out his colleagues, but greatly impresses the company's head honcho in Blake (Rob Delaney), who sees a large and bright future for H with his team.   

Now, just who is this guy?  H is established as a rather quiet loner that keeps to himself and is a fairly poor shot (at least as far as his test on the company shooting range shows), but in the field he's a take-no prisoners, kill first and not ask questions later one-man army, which leads Bullet and his crew wondering what's actually up with this lethal force of a human being.  Things get stranger during another attempted robbery, but this time H doesn't blow the adversaries away with ease, but instead just shows his face to them, which leads to them cowering in fear and running for their lives.  Something just...doesn't add up about this new recruit, who obviously has a history that he never once alluded to.  Through the other aforementioned chapters we meet an FBI man (Andy Garcia) that seems to have an unspecified connection with H, not to mention a group of ex-military thieves led by a former commanding officer (Jeffrey Donovan), who sets his bank robbing team up to hit H's armored car company for the biggest score of their lives.  Complicating things is that one of this squad's members is a sociopath (Scott Eastwood) and that it's slowly, but surely revealed that H has a tie to all of these men that makes a bloody showdown between them all an total certainty. 

 

 

One of the best things about WRATH OF MAN's screenplay (credited to Ritchie and four others) is that it's uncommonly patient with viewers, at least as far as the frenetic momentum of the filmmaker's previous work is concerned.  Ritchie and company create an ultimate riddle for us to decode when it comes to H's real identity, his history, and the motives he has for working with the armored car company, and they never lay their cards on the table too early to telegraph where the film is heading.  H starts his new job as an introverted soul that's all business and isn't too interested in making friends and drawing attention to himself, but as the screenplay unfolds (through multiple time periods in the past and present) we gain a semblance of a larger picture of what makes this man tick...and why he's literally a ticking time bomb of vengeance fuelled rage.  As viewers piece together all of this film's beguiling puzzle pieces it becomes clear that H has a definitive reason for taking his job, none of which is for money or any need for employment.  It's deeply personal and tied to his merciless quest to right the wrongs perpetrated on him.  Again, WRATH OF MAN does an exemplary job of never overly telegraphy H's end game.  We get little hints here and there that tip off a larger arc to come.  An early scene that showcases him eerily staring at a wall of his co-workers' ID badges for what seems like an eternity relays that this guy is simply not on the level. 

Each of the film's chapters (again, all out of chronological order, but never to confusing effect) elaborates further on all of these characters more so than the one that preceded it.  WRATH OF MAN is H's story, yes, but we also gain insights into the quest of those military trained robbers that are planning a heist to end all heists on Black Friday, and how they will have an unavoidable collision course with H in the process.  The longer this film progresses the more hauntingly grim and brutally effective it becomes, especially for how it reveals the sheer depravity of all of these personas on both sides.  There's no good or bad people here in the strictest sense, only ugly human beings with varying degrees of impure (and sometimes relatable) motives.  WRATH OF MAN plays perfectly into the type of hard nosed and penetratingly intimidating blokes that Statham can play in his sleep, but he's so damn effective here playing his brunt forced instrument of borderline Biblical justice that you're willing to forget that it's not a stretch for the actor.  One of the finest surprises of the film is the casting of Eastwood, who's crazy good playing his pretty boy facaded, but toxically unhinged lunatic that gives the film a jolt of cagey unpredictability.  And boy, he sure does look like a young Spaghetti Western era Clint throughout this film. 

Most importantly - and as mentioned earlier - WRATH OF MAN shows Ritchie at his most uncharacteristically low key and understated as far as style goes.  This film doesn't have the zippy and snappy fever dream laced editorial vibe of many of his most popular entries (like SNATCH, ROCKNROLLA, and LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS) and instead tries to find ways of harnessing the overall grimness of this tale.  WRATH OF MAN isn't riddled with bombastic action and swaggering humor (granted, when the former hits it hits hard), but instead seems more at ease when getting into the psychological headspaces of these disease minded characters.  Nothing here seems obtrusively flashy or visually flamboyant, and Ritchie's paired downed and more nuanced directorial approach here is rather welcoming and inviting (just look at the film's opening scene, helmed with great economy and with what appears to be one smoothly orchestrated single shot).  The beguiling score by Christopher Benstead undulates in the background throughout to compliment Ritchie's simple and evocative direction; there's a Hitchcockian level of suspense here that something truly awful about to come for everyone here...and when it does come in the story's bravura finale it feels earned.   

I admired the raw nerve of this picture.  This is not a snarky and fancy free portrait of vermin as we're usually accustomed to with Ritchie.  WRATH OF MAN is about thoroughly evil people doing evil things, which may not allow for multiple enjoyable repeat viewings for the director's most die hard fanboys.  Also, some elements simply don't work in the film, like a very odd and tonally incongruent James Bond inspired opening credit montage and the fact that for as good and enticing as the non-linear storytelling is here, the opening sections that set up the Rubik's Cube of mystery that is H's backstory are fundamentally better than the latter stages of the film.  WRATH OF MAN is laced with as much unrefined testosterone as any of Ritchie's previous outings, but his execution and game plan this go around allows him to flex filmmaking muscles that we arguably haven't seen before from him.  After THE GENTLEMEN and now this, Ritchie is back in fine form and his collaboration with Statham after a long period apart makes for a must-watch event film for their devotees.

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