Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham. Usually a match made in cockney ‘eaven, the pair that made their industry bones together are in for a modern reunion thanks to the upcoming spy movie Five Eyes and the heist-revenger Wrath of Man. Hopefully the former captures a bit more of the old spark between the filmmaker and his tough guy more than the latter, which sees the duo tentatively try out an older, more mature rhythm to their shared work with mixed success.
In Wrath of Man, Statham plays a newly hired armored car guard (who obviously has a bit of a past, more than even your run-of-the-mill armored car guard) and right away we can tell he’s up to something. Nobody else goes full John Wick their first day on the job. He’s dubbed “H” by his mentor/carmate Bullet (Holt McCallany) because, as it’s a Guy Ritchie movie, everyone needs a handle. “Boy Sweat Dave” and “Hollow Bob” don’t quite work like Snatch’s Franky Four Fingers or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ Chrises Big and Little. Turns out small-time motormouthed London lads make these kinds of names stick better than straight-faced all-Americans in a professional workplace.
This cultural disconnect is the first stylistic complication of the narratively complex film, which unpacks exactly what H’s plan is while Ritchie juggles a trio of ensembles: Those that work for the armored car company, those looking to rob them and those lingering in H’s backstory. Not only do H and Bullet have their own supporting cast of goofballs (including John Hartnett’s aforementioned Boy Sweat Dave), but we’ve also got to deal with Jeffrey Donovan’s faction of soldiers-gone-bad (featuring the always forgettable Scott Eastwood) and another group seemingly led by a downright uncanny Andy García—all while figuring out how exactly the groups relate to each other.
If that sounds complicated, that’s because it is, in structure if not in content: The cold and nasty plot hits the same inciting robbery over and over from every concerned party’s angle, unraveling the moment H goes from regular badass to the avenging angel that Wrath of Man’s opening credits tease with its woodcut imagery. The film plasters more dates and times on screen than my phone’s Google Calendar alerts, but Ritchie handles the timeline with relative precision and clarity. It’s done well, but done to death—sort of like how H deals with literally anyone.
It’s also indicative of the script as a whole, which is as solid and meticulous as the camerawork when depicting process and scenario. I was happy to spend so much time with the old-school heist set-up exploring daily on-the-job activities. It even has a solid grip on its theme, telling a tale of codes and honor—the responsibilities one has to those that trust them—and the off-kilter, warped-mirror version of that macho ideal: The faux locker room loyalty of soldiers and team sports that unravels in the face of base selfishness. In Ritchie’s world, loyalty comes in a single form. It’s simple, brutal and far more rare than everyone thinks.
Wrath of Man’s main problem is when it deals with those men in question: The drivers, guards, thieves and heavies going through these motions. While we can mostly keep everyone straight, following which lug has shot another, they don’t pull off what little injections of style or character Ritchie allows. The cast seems unconvinced with the tinny dialogue in the moment, giving stagey readings of slangy ballbusting that—like those nicknames—feels lost in translation. Perhaps it’s a symptom of a French film (Nicolas Boukhrief’s 2004 Le Convoyeur) being remade in an American locale by an Englishman known for flooding his writing with hyper-specified style to the point of incomprehensibility. It could also be that Ritchie’s spark is being dulled a bit by Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, both of whom co-wrote The Gentlemen’s story and made the leap to screenplay co-writers for the first time on Wrath of Man. Whatever the case, the pompous, scene-stealing Rob Delaney (who pops up to inject some levity exactly twice) is the lone actor who seems to be completely vibing with the film’s tone—and that’s because he’s explicitly cynical comic relief.
That leaves usual all-stars like McCallany feeling more than a little phony and, while that thematically fits with the mistrustful plot, it bogs down an already dour film with performances ranging from merely serviceable (Statham’s handful of lines and ever-present hard stare) to botched (where most actors would make a meal of his unhinged veteran/thief, Eastwood seems to be on a hunger strike). Even Hartnett’s convincingly fearful anxiety—perhaps the closest the film gets to genuine emotion—clashes with its surroundings.
It’s this collision of impulses and styles that defines the film beyond its retro thrills and directorial competence. It’s the nicknames, the overlapping banter, the wildness of its wild cards never quite connecting to the setting—the style’s familiar elements are all far too grounded and heavy, their vitality drained by the long flight. The spotty accent work (most notably Eddie Marsan’s) can rub your nose in the unnecessary shift, made extra silly because the film goes to great pains explaining H’s whole deal and why he’s able to keep his British growl. You’re setting your movie in L.A.—let people be from wherever!
These are all little problems that keep nagging throughout Wrath of Man’s otherwise solid craftsmanship, these constant reminders of missed opportunities chipping away at the goodwill earned by the endearingly nuts-and-bolts filmmaking until—as the final domino falls—you realize how little you now care. But even if it’s a less fun and more deliberately filmed story than you’d expect from a Ritchie/Statham reunion, it still occasionally pulses with angry style like a forehead vein. You get a bit of nice action every once in a while, but the film works best when we’re watching a piece of logistical planning or dramatic irony pay off. The film is better at punching the clock than punching the bad guys. To that end, it’s an honest day’s work from Ritchie and Statham, but not an especially entertaining one.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies
Stars: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonzo, Raúl Castillo, Deobia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood
Release Date: May 7, 2021
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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