What makes a Guy Ritchie movie? Perhaps it’s the kinetic action shots, British dark humor, and loads of noir-style chutzpah. If those are some of the many signature ingredients, well, you may be surprised to know that Ritchie tosses a great deal of them out to craft something new and more serious with Wrath of Man.
Masculinity and buckets of blood ooze as they do in Ritchie films (and maybe a few of his camera tricks, too), but otherwise, this is a revenge tale with more in common with Michael Mann’s Heat than Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The well-cranked tension and perspective shifts keep you on edge.
The real fun of Wrath of Man is how information is revealed. If you’ve managed to avoid trailers, try to keep it that way. In classic Ritchie style, he throws you into the thick of it, and piece by piece, you begin to understand what motivates each character. So, when Jason Statham comes onto the scene to work as a new crew member of an armored truck service, delivering money around Los Angeles, you know he means business. Sometimes, it sounds like Ritchie is using subtle lion noises to hint at a rage buried beneath Statham’s mysterious H character—especially by the end when you hear it in the musical score.
H’s team (including Josh Hartnett and Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany) treats him like a rookie, but respect is coming soon. This is when a heist goes down to test the guys, and let’s just say Statham handles himself like he’s auditioning to be a John Wick villain. He mows through criminals (one played by Post Malone) with surgical precision. He’s fishing for something. We just don’t know what yet. But if you caught my mentioning of this being a revenge tale, you might be priming yourself for some unforgiving carnage.
Yes, a tragic event happened not too long ago in H’s life, and he’s out for blood. What unfolds is a fascinating work that’s not shy to hop from one side of the fence to the other as if Ritchie was inspired by The Place Beyond the Pines’ narrative structure. (Just don’t expect similar story beats to that work, however.) The film is broken up into chapters, where words like “dark spirit” and “scorched Earth” appear during the transitions. The meaning of them is what keeps you on your toes. When we go from Statham’s perspective to that of a crew who wronged him, that’s when Ritchie surprises the most with his character building.
Each character has a history that could warrant their own movie. Disturbed henchmen doing their boss’s dirty work, Scott Eastwood’s ruthless baddie, and a money truck informant all have stories to tell. There’s a scar on Eastwood’s Jan that tells you this young man has been through some things. The intensity that brews when Ritchie holds a shot on him makes you want to walk in the other direction. He’s unpredictable, and it’s a role that sees Eastwood serving up his very best chops.
If you were to put it all in chronological order, the plot might not have a lot of weight. But I would take this film’s simplicity any day over the too-complicated-for-its-own-good storylines that Ritchie often tells, like his last film The Gentlemen. This is easy to follow, and the chapter breaks and timeline jumps keep it moving with interest.
Wrath of Man explores many compelling themes and has you liking a character at one moment and fearing them the next. Ritchie directs a tightly-wound thriller with a palpable menace that has much more on its mind than attention-grabbing criminal activity and shoot-out action. It may be a tune you’ve heard before, but Ritchie’s efforts piece together many impressive harmonies. It’s a worthy welcome back to the theater during the summer movie season.