Wrath of Man
WHERE TO WATCH:
Now showing in cinemas.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A stoic, tough-as-nails security guard, known simply as "H" (Jason Statham), joins the security team at a cash-truck company after one of its trucks are hijacked, leaving millions of dollars missing, two guards dead, and one civilian caught in the crossfire. But what is the mysterious H really up to and why did he choose to work at this particular cash-truck company?
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Mere months after The Gentlemen returned writer/ director, Guy Ritchie, to his trademark "funny geezers and gangsters" roots – a messy, convoluted but entertaining return-to-form after the disastrous results of his past couple of entries into the genre, Revolver and RocknRolla – Ritchie has a new film out, but it is one that marks a significant departure for the filmmaker. And this is someone who has tried his hand at Disney remakes (Aladdin), a big-budget, muscular reboot of Sherlock Holmes, and just whatever the hell Swept Away was supposed to be.
With Wrath of Man (or, as it is known in some territories, Cash Truck, which is a duller but less spoilerific title), Ritchie has dialled the humour all the way down, while taking the seriousness about as far as he has ever pushed it. It's not, despite what the title might suggest, a searing look into the heart of man and it's still not something that allows its dramatic elements to get in the way of its action-thriller genre trappings – frankly, it's no less shallow than something like The Gentlemen – but it is a surprisingly gritty crime movie with none of the flippancy or ironic post-modernism that he brings to most of his projects. Strangely, in that respect and only in that respect, it is closest to his very straight and very un-Guy-Ritchie-like Aladdin.
There are some Guy Richie stylistic ticks to be found, though, including some unconventional framing, non-linear storytelling, and his very specific way of depicting organized crime (though, again, with none of his usual absurdist humour), but this is much, much, much closer to something like Michael Mann's Heat than Snatch.
It is actually, however, a slightly difficult film to talk about because even if you can pretty easily see exactly where it's going from virtually the minute Jason Statham first appears on screen, Ritchie still plays his cards quite close to his chest with much of it playing out like a mystery. At least, that's what it does for its first chapter. Yes, the film is divided into numerous neat chapters that jump around in time a bit. Guy can't help himself.
The long first section sets up the mystery of who H is, what he is doing in this security firm, and just why he can so easily dispatch a half dozen hijackers with lethal precision. So far so effective. It then over explains everything, however, in its second chapter as it lays out everything that led H to his current predicament, but then redeems itself again with what is easily the most emotionally pure section in any Guy Ritchie film to date. After playing around with flashforwards and flashbacks, Guy shifts the focus again in the next chapter to the baddies (the bigger baddies, I guess?) before bringing it all together at the end in a climactic, extended heist.
It's a lot, basically, but all credit to both Ritchie and his editor, James Herbert, for keeping everything tonally consistent and narratively coherent. Some parts are better than others, no doubt, but they all feel of a piece, which is no small feat for a filmmaker whose reach often exceeds his grasp. Unfortunately, I'm just not entirely satisfied with the end result, no matter how proficiently it is put together – even if I fully admit that action-thriller fans will probably get far more out of it than I did.
My big issue with the film comes down to a single word: character. Not just in the usual sense that the characters are all, without fail, two-dimensional at very best, but in the sense that however well put together the film is – and few Guy Ritchie films are this purely competent – it's extremely generic and lacking much personality of its own. Its heist-thriller and revenge drama elements also may mesh on a purely narrative level, but emotionally they end up cancelling one another out in the film's exciting, efficient, but ultimately unsatisfying final act.
Even the Stath can't quite pave over the film's lack of distinctiveness as he brings almost none of the self-aware humour that has made him, this side of Dwayne Johnson, the best and most charismatic action star on the planet. He is as magnetic a screen presence as ever, but it's ironic that the first film in years that Statham has made with the writer/director who first brought us his indelible mix of tough-guy charm and dryly comic self-awareness (a combination that reached its comedic apex with his movie-stealing turn in the Paul Feig film, Spy), is this lacking in laughs. He's not completely without a sense of humour here - though it has seldom been quite this dry and mirthless - but this is decidedly a Jason Statham with both the goofiness and the warmth turned all the way down to "chilly".
Admittedly, I am probably being unfair for criticizing Wrath of Man for its lack of Guy-Ritchie-ness after deriding a film like RocknRolla or even The Gentlemen for being inferior remakes of Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but this is fairly typical of my reaction to one of his more recent films: loads to like but it just doesn't quite land for me. Still, this is a major step up from back when I thought he had nothing left to offer after a string of pretty terrible movies made it look like his first two films were nothing more than flukes. Since Sherlock Holmes, though, Ritchie has reinvented himself as one of the most unpredictable and versatile writer/ directors out there; someone clearly worth paying attention to even if he misses as often as he hits.
And honestly, even if this isn't a home run, it's certainly no strike out either (look at that, a baseball metaphor). I'm also pretty sure that though this might leave fans of Ritchie's gangster flicks a bit nonplussed, it probably will strike a major chord with those simply looking for a good, old fashioned, well-made, action-thriller. Considering how rare such a thing is these days, fans of that genre might want to add a star or two to my very solid three-star rating.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: