It’s not that I don’t understand some people’s knee-jerk negative reactions to the films of Guy Ritchie, but I remain a fan of his crime dramas—from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch to his previous work The Gentlemen (hell, I even mostly like his two Sherlock Holmes movies and The Man From UNCLE). It’s probably no coincidence that my excitement level for Ritchie’s latest, the heist-centric actioner Wrath of Man, was due to it starring Jason Statham, who effectively got his start in those early Ritchie works, often playing a wiseass thug who never seemed to take the death and destruction around him that seriously.
In Wrath of Man, Statham’s character is nicknamed H, a quiet but intense man who gets a job as a Los Angeles cash truck security guard. He makes those who work with him a bit uneasy, but after stopping a group of would-be thieves in their tracks on one of his first days on the job, he becomes the most heroic employee the operation has ever seen. Even his interview to get the job was strange, as if he wanted to appear qualified but not too qualified, and it becomes clear that he’s taking this job for ulterior motives that have nothing to do with the millions of dollars he’s transporting day after day.
Based on the 2004 French film Le Convoyeur (Cash Truck), starring Jean Dujardin, and adapted by Ritchie and Ivan Atkinson & Marn Davies, Wrath of Man is frequently shocking, brutal and explosive in ways that are often familiar but sometimes different from what Ritchie and Statham have delivered in the past. It becomes clear that H’s personal mission comes from a place of great heartache and pain, as is revealed cleverly across the course of the movie, seeing the same armored car robbery from three different perspectives: from inside the back of the vehicle with limited vantage points of the worst of the violence; from the perspective of the small army of very organized thieves; and finally from the point of view of the innocent victims who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
At a certain point, we come to realize that Statham is after revenge and that he is not so innocent himself. He’s clearly part of a group of criminals, but the details of his affairs aren’t fully delved into, nor do they need to be; they aren’t important. All we need to know about him, we know. When provoked, he’s as deadly as they come and his skills as a marksman are damn near flawless. Supporting Statham along the way are fellow guards played by Josh Hartnett, Niamh Algar (Raised by Wolves), and Holt McCallany (Mindhunter), playing Bullet, the head guard, as well as Eddie Marsan as the company outpost’s manager. Andy Garcia pops in from time to time as an FBI agent meant to capture H, who instead decides to let him do his worst in order to take out these deadly criminals. And then there’s a group of recent military veterans, led by Jeffrey Donovan, who are bored being back home and feel the country owes them something (Scott Eastwood is among their ranks as the youngest and most radical of the group). Their ties to the greater story become clear soon enough.
As a mystery, Wrath of Man isn’t exactly a tough nut to crack, but as a sledgehammer to the gut, the film certainly succeeds in rattling one’s cage. If you’re not a fan of bullets to the head, stab wounds, and other varieties of bloody bodily trauma, this one might not be for you. And if you prefer your Statham characters to be a bit more chatty and smarmy, H doesn’t fit that mold. But one of the reasons Statham has sustained his career as an action warhorse is because he’s one of the best actors doing primarily action movies, and his version of living with pain due to an impossible loss is quite effective. He’s not crying every time sad music plays, but he gets the point across that H is a man who will demolish anything that gets in the way of his vengeance. It’s a solid performance, and Ritchie is at least partially to thank for it, since clearly the actor trusted his director to guide him through the process of building this character from a place of pain. Certainly, I’m not trying to sell Wrath of Man as some sort of benchmark of excellence, but as an emotionally driven action piece, it got my attention.
The film is now playing theatrically.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!