Jason Statham Unleashes the ‘Wrath of Man’ in Icy Guy Ritchie Thriller
Both Jason Statham and director Guy Ritchie find darkly intriguing ways to up their game with “Wrath of Man.” It is a hybrid heist thriller that brings together elements that have defined both men’s work, but then processes it all into a surprisingly stark, gothic genre film. Like many bold experiments it doesn’t always land perfectly, but it still manages to conjure plenty of atmosphere and blood-soaked intensity. Maybe these two artists, who first collaborated in the earliest days of each other’s careers, decided it was time to take a break from their standard brands. To be sure, their respective styles are still there, but with a menacing air.
Statham plays “H,” who has just landed a new job at the Fortico armored car company in Los Angeles. As his boss Terry (Eddie Marsan) makes clear, this is a private security firm with no federal links. It’s therefore perfect for H, who has no family or much background story to speak of. He is teamed up with Bullet (Holt McCallany), an experienced supervisor who shows him the ropes. One would think driving an armored vehicle full of money in Los Angeles would guarantee some security, but there have been a string of armed heists, including a recent one where two Fortico guards were killed. Soon enough H shocks everyone with his skills when he stops a heist by expertly shooting down the masked criminals with astounding precision. To Terry’s nervousness, H becomes a legend at the Fortico headquarters. Yet his aim is not to rise in the company, but to hunt down the participants of a recent heist that left H wounded and suffering a great personal loss.
While the posters have the typical look of a Guy Ritchie production, once the film begins it is obvious the director is swimming through new waters. His previous work with Statham was mostly defined by energetic romps where visual exuberance mattered more than the plot itself. “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” remain the defining Ritchie-Statham movies, where Statham played underworld figures but always with a sense of humor lurking beneath every cliché line. The two have then defined their work independently in much the same way. Ritchie’s work is usually about the energy in the editing and zany dialogue, while Statham has been one of the defining leading men when it comes to the clench-jawed action movie, where one fit hero can take down an entire city of villains with a serious face. “Wrath of Man” has visual richness but Ritchie’s usual, manic pacing is absent. It’s as if after helming Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” and last year’s over-stylized “The Gentlemen,” he felt like being patient for once with the camera. Cinematographer Alan Stewart gives Los Angeles a cold, metallic edge, while the music by Christopher Benstead is a pounding, droning menace similar to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Sicario” score. The Fortico depot has noir shadows with tracking shots that let us soak in the environment. Some critics have termed the movie “boring,” but maybe it’s because they’re not used to seeing Richie really try to make something patient rather than rushed.
As a narrative “Wrath of Man” is not that original in the sense that its plot could be recycled from countless other movies. Sometimes the dialogue in the screenplay by Ritchie, Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson tries too hard to rise above the norm with the kind of scenes where gangsters sound like seminary students. Even the opening credits feature Medieval Biblical sketches. Yet this is also what makes “Wrath of Man” an entertaining ride in its own right. What we get is a Guy Ritchie movie when it comes to stylized photography and a Jason Statham movie when it comes to the revenge angle. Except now the stylized look is passive and Statham’s character is placed in something attempting to be a real story. Seen this way you could compare it to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” starring Adam Sandler as an Adam Sandler character, but in a lush Anderson tale. Statham does his killer stare, coolly walks out of a truck and plows through crooks, but when we discover who he really is, the reasons behind his bloody zeal are actually quite heartbreaking. The tension feels authentic in scenes where he comes close to finding out who wronged him so terribly, or when Bullet reveals a dark secret about his own past.
Crucial to the whole enterprise is how the casting is spot on as well. As the plot unfolds H begins to enter a dangerous underworld of gangsters and soldiers-turned-criminals, desperate to steal millions to not have to live their low-wage jobs. Among the gang is Jan, played with toxic ego by Scott Eastwood, and Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan), a sergeant capable of meticulous, disciplined planning for each heist. They are written like standard action movie characters but with a bit more depth and kick to their dialogue. Holt McCallany, who was so good in Netflix’s “Mindhunter” as an FBI profiler, is the classic pal a guy like H makes at work, but played with convincing grit. We know all these characters will then engage in some shootout or bloodbath near the end, and Ritchie does not disappoint. There is a grand heist sequence to cap it all off with plenty of betrayals and stray bullets. But Ritchie has made a film that stands apart from the usual heist flick. Even with its imperfections and moments of rehashed violence or plot twists, “Wrath of Man” shows that Ritchie and Statham are capable of mining for darker material that hints at real subtext beneath all the action. Sometimes it can still be style over substance, but at least this time there is more substance.
“Wrath of Man” releases May 7 in theaters nationwide.