Wrath of Man, 2021.
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Scott Eastwood, Josh Hartnett, Niamh Algar, Andy Garcia and Eddie Marsan.
A mysterious man signs up to provide security for trucks transporting huge amounts of cash. But does he have an ulterior motive? It’d be a short movie if he didn’t.
I will never tire of movies in which Jason Statham portrays a taciturn one-man army. There’s something so magnetic about the former diver’s lithe physicality and bruising, balletic fisticuffs that it’s impossible to be anything other than thrilled when he’s mixing it up on the big screen. It’s bizarre then that in the deeply tiresome new Guy Ritchie thriller Wrath of Man, Statham feels strangely neutered – like a machine gun with just one, solitary bullet in the magazine.
His character is H – make your own “mother of God” reference here – whom we meet as he signs up to run security for a company which provides secure trucks for the transfer of cash. An under-used Eddie Marsan portrays his boss, while his guide through the locker room world of the security folk is Bullet (Mindhunter star Holt McCallany). It’s an almost comedically blokey world of outdated masculinity, in which the only female employee (Niamh Algar) is the butt of jokes and everyone seems to have a silly nickname, from Hollow Bob and Sticky John to Boy-Sweat Dave. Statham’s own nickname is, laughably, given added resonance when McCallany deadpans: “He’s H, like the bomb”.
Bullet’s appreciation comes after H responds to a raid on one of the company’s trucks by calmly shooting each of the assailants in the head, rather than following the protocol. It’s clear there’s more to this man than his bare minimum pass rate on the pre-hire shooting challenge suggested. There’s something in his chequered past that encouraged him to take this job, and nothing will stop him achieving his goals.
Ritchie – adapting French thriller Cash Truck – makes the baffling choice to take the relatively simple plot and contort it via series of nested flashbacks and non-linear devices into an incomprehensible sludge of heists, criminal gangs, interrogations and murders. By the time the action returns to the present day, it takes a scratch of the head and a spreadsheet to work out what’s going on and who’s aligned with who. It’s enough to bring back horrifying memories of 2005’s Revolver – a previous Ritchie-Statham team-up which disappeared entirely up its own rear end amid pretentious storytelling tricks.
Part of the problem this time around is that Ritchie marries all of the structural tricks – and they’re all there, including nonsensical chapter titles – with a complete absence of visual flair. The palette is overwhelmingly grey and there’s none of the bombastic camerawork which has been the hallmark of many of Ritchie’s more enjoyable recent films. There was a lot to question about The Gentlemen, but it was packed with audacious cinematic flair and characters who were as colourful as they were dislikeable. In Wrath of Man, it’s not clear who’s good and who’s bad – not because the characters are murky and complex, but because they’re entirely blank.
Statham, of course, is the pick of the bunch. He’s entirely capable of carrying dialogue-light scenes, but his character lacks any sort of depth and, bafflingly, is often kept out of the action. The film’s final hour is bogged down with deafening, inconsequential gunplay between characters it’s impossible to care a jot about. Particularly in the middle of the film, there’s entirely too much running time passing by without Statham ever punching someone in the face or cracking their skull against a wall. If one of the world’s best movie action men is not being given space to act and not being given space to wow with his physicality, then why are we here?
Wrath of Man is being praised in some quarters as a throwback to unashamedly masculine action fare of previous decades, and it’s easy to see why those comparisons are being made. The difference is that both society and cinema has moved forward in that time, leaving this movie curiously unmoored and without anything of note to say. The Gentlemen might have been unpleasant at times, but at least it had an identity. This feels like a film any director for hire could’ve made, which is damning for a director with the ostentatious style of Ritchie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.