Ritchie discards the levity of his previous crime films for a hard-nosed and gritty thriller that still entertains.
Guy Ritchie is a filmmaker I oddly find myself rooting for. I find that he’s constantly straining against being pigeonholed, and yet he also loves his stylish attitude and worlds filled with criminals. I can’t discount bizarre blockbusters like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or the terrific spy flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, his 2019 film The Gentlemen felt like a step backwards for Ritchie, as if he was trying to reclaim the irreverent gangster flicks that he made his name on, and instead appearing as if he had missed a step. That’s why his latest, Wrath of Man, feels so refreshing: it’s still in the mold of other Ritchie crime flicks but it’s angry, volatile, unsparing, and brutal. Don’t go looking for colorful supporting characters or farcical misunderstandings. Instead, Wrath of Man is cold and bloody while still retaining its thrills.
Patrick “H” Hill (Jason Statham) is a former private security worker who takes a new job at an armored car company three months after the company was robbed and two of its guards were killed. H likes to keep to himself but appears to have a watchful eye towards his co-workers. When his truck is attacked, rather than follow protocol and hand over the money, H guns down the thieves with surgical precision. This response startles his fellow guards but earns H a promotion in the company. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear H is not a typical guard and he didn’t take this job because he needed the work.
To say any more than that would be to spoil the twists that keep coming after the first act. However, even here, you can see Ritchie’s signature as he circles back on his timeline, loops around, and intersects with various groups of criminals. The key difference is that there are no “fun” criminals here. Typically, Ritchie likes to throw in guys who are out of their depth or are feigning toughness or that their toughness is colored by an irreverent attitude. Ritchie, in his screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson, strips all that away and goes straight for the jugular in a film where there are no characters to really root for. It’s bad people and slightly less bad people and bystanders. Some may not have the appetite for this kind of film, but I’m impressed that Ritchie chose to go there, and it kept me on my toes throughout the film’s runtime.
What’s most impressive about Wrath of Man is how it discards everything familiar after the end of the first act. In the first act, you think you know what this movie is and it’s going to go into the canon of “Jason Statham Murders Everybody” and even if it were only that film, I would kind of be okay with it. Ritchie directs it with such a brooding, somber approach that it doesn’t feel like another Mechanic or Transporter. It’s still Statham doing what we expect from Statham—being tough, stylish, and physically domineering—but then twisting expectations to the point where Ritchie is willing to straight up ask us, “Is this type, this familiar character we’ve grown to love from this actor, a total sociopath?” It makes for an odd yet intriguing blend of B-movie thrills combined with some surprising darkness that keeps expanding throughout the narrative.
There are times when the whole enterprise threatens to fall apart like with the stilted dialogue (there are some groan-worthy lines, especially early on) and how the film seems to restart with each new chapter, chapters that have titles like “A Dark Spirit” and “Bad Animals, Bad.” And yet this construction and tone keeps Wrath of Man interesting. It feels like Ritchie challenging himself in a way that he didn’t with The Gentlemen, and given how dark the film goes, I had to keep chuckling to myself when I remembered that Ritchie also directed a live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin. This may not be Ritchie’s best movie or his most memorable, but it doesn’t feel like more of the same.
Some may not go for the brutality on display here and others may wonder why Ritchie drained the color that made his earlier crime films such hits. But taking that leap speaks to a director who has found confidence in what he’s doing and doesn’t need to replay those hits. There’s an underlying attitude in Wrath of Man that Ritchie doesn’t seem to particularly care if you like this one, and that will probably end up relegating it to the tier of his lesser-known crime movies like Revolver and RocknRolla. But (and I fully admit this may be me on the “I’m-so-happy-to-be-back-in-theaters-that-I’m-grading-on-a-curve” approach) I still found Wrath of Man captivating even though it’s far from comforting. It’s a film that shows Ritchie still has some tricks up his sleeve.
Soloway co-writes the project with ‘Tomb Raider’s Tasha Huo.
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