Clever writing and a signature circular plot considerably elevate Wrath of Man, director Guy Ritchie's long-awaited reunion with star Jason Statham. It's a testament to Ritchie's raging lunacy as a filmmaker that he waited to make this — a film about a man avenging the (violent) death of his son — after he had five children of his own.
Ritchie constructs the film around the murder of the protagonist's son, a scene that he shoots from multiple angles and perspectives, and returns to on several occasions. I wonder if it was difficult to direct.
Watch the trailer of Wrath of Man here
Despite its rather roundabout plot, Wrath of Man is a more streamlined action picture than the director's last film, the similarly entertaining The Gentlemen. It's also somewhat ironic that Ritchie's smallest film also happens to be the most Biblical, thematically.
No wives and daughters are harmed in Wrath of Man; there's some Guy Ritchie chivalry for you. But when crime lord Patrick 'H' Hill's son is killed in a cash truck robbery gone wrong, he… doesn't get a gun (immediately). Nor does he go on a rampage through town, like John Wick. Instead, he finds a job.
To locate the perpetrators of the crime, G gets himself hired at the cash truck company his son's killers targeted in that botched robbery. I wonder if he set up a LinkedIn first, or had a buddy put in a good word for him. But regardless of his strategy, he ends up as one of the drivers at the Los Angeles-based firm Fortico, run by — and this is really as far as Wrath of Man is willing to go, comedically — a buffoon played by Rob Delaney. He's massively miscast in a film that is often too serious for its own good — a far cry from Ritchie's banter-filled ensemble pieces.
Wrath of Man is an aggressively masculine film, about men, even by Ritchie's standards — it's a tough pill to swallow for anyone who isn't already on the director's wham-bam wavelength. As always, his characters are nicknames first and human beings later — besides H, the film's roster of hard-nosed men includes people called Bullet and Boy Sweat, Moggy and Hollow.
It's been described as a Heat rip-off — an understandable comparison, considering the many heist sequences that Ritchie squeezes into its two-hour run time — but it owes a greater debt to those old Clint Eastwood Westerns. I refuse to believe that the casting of Eastwood's son, Scott, isn't a tongue-in-cheek in-joke.
He plays Jan, a rakish member of a heist crew led by Jeffrey Donovan's army veteran Jackson, whose story unfolds in parallel to the cash truck team's. It all builds towards a heist in which everyone gets a first-hand glimpse of H's unique set of skills.
In a way, Wrath of Man is also like JC Chandor's Triple Frontier, if it weren't told from the mercenaries' perspective. Like that Netflix film, Wrath of Man features someone who used to be one of the world's most popular movie stars, but in a supporting role. Josh Hartnett sort of fills the same position in Wrath of Man that his Pearl Harbor co-star Ben Affleck occupied in Triple Frontier — not the lead, nor the last-billed. It's wonderful to see him back in action — quite literally, in the film's final set-piece.
A lot has changed since Ritchie and Statham's previous collaborations — Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Revolver — from almost two decades ago. But the director's (very obvious) love for the star is palpable in Wrath of Man. Much of the film is devoted to photographing Statham's steely character (and his Greek God features) in the most flattering manner possible. But Ritchie's script, co-written by Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, also makes the crucial decision to not make him some sort of a monster, despite his day job as a crime kingpin. His mission is one that we can empathise with, and through the course of the film, Ritchie goes out of his way to give H a wonky morality. A subplot involves him rescuing women from a sex ring, an operation that he puts a most decisive end to.
And he does with a trademark Statham swagger that more than makes up for Ritchie's surprisingly subdued direction. He really is back in his element.