Synopsis: A mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard surprises his coworkers during a heist in which he unexpectedly unleashes precision skills. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from. Soon, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score.
Stars: Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, DeObia Oparei, Niamh Algar, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney
Director: Guy Ritchie
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Ever since his smash bang debut feature Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was released in 1998 and made him a hot ticket in Hollywood (not to mention catching the eye of future ex-wife Madonna), director Guy Ritchie has gone through various stages of an identity crisis. While his follow-up two years later, Snatch, delivered the goods with a bigger budget and the star power of Brad Pitt, he stumbled hard teaming up with his then-wife for the messy vanity project Swept Away before firing off two other crime capers seen as pale imitations of his earlier work. Finally giving himself over to the studio machine, he was behind the monumentally successful (but strangely forgettable) Sherlock Holmes films and the less seen but far better update of The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
Things were looking grim after his King Arthur movie tanked and even a surprising foray into Disney musicals with the Aladdin remake was also met with middling reviews and marginal box office. Then, in 2019 it seemed like the Ritchie that showed such a knack for knotty narratives was back (not to mention his eye for luxe style) with The Gentlemen, an impressive but slight crimedy (crime+comedy…did I create a new genre?). Though not exactly up to pace, it at least showed Ritchie was limbering up to get back in the race with material he obviously displayed a greater interest in spending time with.
I find that I get a little tense when approaching American remakes of foreign films, especially by established directors that have their choice of unproduced screenplays by new writers. Why take the time to re-do the work of another artist? You’re just asking to be compared to that earlier work. Seeing that Ritchie’s newest was a remake of the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur, I wondered if Ritchie was stepping back into old habits. As it turns out, Wrath of Man is Ritchie’s best film in ages, a lean, (very) mean, muscled grunt of a revenge thriller that will have audiences on the edge of their seats.
Before its moody opening credits sequence (oh, how I love a title sequence!), Wrath of Man opens on the robbery of an armored truck gone wrong, a scene viewers see played out from a static position that limits what we can take in. It’s the first of many ways Ritchie and his co-screenwriters Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson (adapting the original script from Nicolas Boukhrief and Éric Besnard) work with cinematographer Alan Stewart (Mary Poppins Returns) to point us in the direction they want us to go, which may not always tell the whole truth. It’s not cheating, mind you, but it’s a form of misdirection for the moment that helps keep the larger secrets of the film hidden longer.
Sometime later, a man (Jason Statham, The Meg) arrives as the Fortico armored truck company to apply for an open position as a driver/guard for the cash deliveries and deposits across the Los Angeles area. This is the same company who had the guards held up in the prologue and are still on high alert after the guards wound up dead. Needing to fill an empty space on their roster, hiring manager Terry (Eddie Marsan, The Virtuoso) appears to think the new recruit is perfect for the job, but we can tell he isn’t entirely convinced he’s the one to hire. Passing all the background checks and meeting the requirements for the job, he joins the elite squad anyway and is paired with Bullet (Holt McCallany, Greenland) a senior guard with the company. All the guards are gifted their own nicknames and soon the quiet new employee earns the moniker, H, “as in Jesus H.”
H isn’t on the job long before a routine run with Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later) turns into a tense stand-off between the two men and an array of armed men wanting their deposits. H’s response to this situation (spoiler alert: he’s a man of hidden talents) impresses the higher ups at Fortico but raises suspicion within the team that there’s more to H than meets the eye. Everyone has a right to be somewhat concerned because H is there for more than a paycheck and through a series of detours in the narrative that folds the movie around like a pretzel it becomes brutally clear he’s shown up for something no money can buy…payback.
To say more would spoil that pretzel plot which is baked to near perfection by Ritchie and his rough and tumble gang of amped up actors. While the pieces start to naturally fall into place with a casual meter, they never present themselves as a workmanlike schedule of beats to hit. There are some genuine surprises throughout the film and even if the biggest one is almost shockingly delivered as a throwaway line, I found that to almost be kind of amazing, too, because the film clearly thinks it has something better up its sleeves…and it does.
Continuing their decades long working relationship, Statham and Ritchie make a great team and if this represents Ritchie’s best work in years it’s also Statham’s most mature acting on screen to date. Affording him the opportunity to remain an action heavy while showing range simultaneously, it’s a perfect role for the actor that has been known to make a trove of films that seem interchangeable playing characters indistinguishable from the next. He receives some nice back-up from the always underrated McCallany as his guide into Fortico and while I’m not entirely persuaded with Hartnett turning up as a gruff and rough big-talker, I was convinced he’d go pale when faced with real life danger. I’ll opt out of saying how they figure into the plot, but Andy Garcia (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), Jeffrey Donovan (Lucy in the Sky) and Scott Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D), round out the top-notch supporting cast. Mostly a male-dominated roster, the few women in the picture are wives that float into the frame to kiss their husbands goodbye on their way to work or cry over the loss of a loved one, but the lone female working at Fortico (Niamh Algar, The Shadow of Violence) is shown as just one of the guys but hops into bed with H after he barely blinks at her. Strong female roles have never been Ritchie’s most dependable suit and that’s one of the film’s blatant weaknesses.
Now working on a television adaptation of The Gentlemen (smart move), another thriller with Hartnett, Aubrey Plaza, and Hugh Grant (interesting), and a likely sequel to Aladdin (please, no), Ritchie seems to be back in the groove of things. Films like Wrath of Man are exactly the tone and temperament he excels at and knows when to pull back on. There were a number of times I noticed acts of violence that could have been shown in greater detail were either omitted or quickly cut away from, giving the viewer the general idea because he’s engineered the film to paint that picture already in our mind. Combine that with Statham’s blistering performance and Ritchie’s typically interesting song selections and you have a brawler bit of entertainment.