Guy Ritchie’s trademark boyish braggadocio seems to have finally caught up with the realities of aging out of being a kid with something to prove.
- 🔫 An intriguing premise that unravels into a true banger of a plot by the halfway point.
- 🔫 Jason Statham is giving one of the best performances of his career.
- 🔫 That "Fulsom Prison Blues" sequence is Capital-C Cinema.
- 🔫 The screenplay could be tighter with regards to pacing and a few extraneous plot points.
Wrath of Man is currently only available to watch in theaters (as of May 7, 2021). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend checking it out at your local drive-in. If one isn’t available, please be sure to check out state and CDC guidelines before watching in an enclosed space.
It’s been a rough few years to be a Guy Ritchie fan. Whether he’s going outside his wheelhouse on a director-for-hire stint on Disney’s Aladdin or trying to recapture his own youthful energy in The Gentlemen to middling results, it’s been a good while since we’ve had a Guy Ritchie film that honed in on what makes the writer-director so enjoyable, 2015’s delightful The Man from U.N.C.L.E. notwithstanding. Wrath of Man feels like a sort of homecoming for Ritchie, reuniting with longtime collaborator Jason Statham for a film that stands amongst his most crowning achievements. Yet it’s also venturing into new territory, a more mature offering from a director renowned for his explorations of masculine juvenilia that takes a more measured, almost somber tack for the action beats at its core.
Jason Statham plays the enigmatic Harry Hill, nicknamed “H” by his supervisor Bullet (Holt McCallany) when he takes a job at a security company responsible for transporting millions of dollars in cash in armored vehicles around the city of Los Angeles. H barely passes his training for the position with a suspiciously marginal score, though his lack of concern and one-track dedication to his new position make his personality a noted contrast to the other, more testosterone-driven guards, most notably fellow driver Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett). The façade of H’s seeming mere adequacy begins to chip away, however, when he starts responding to attempted robberies of the cash trucks with extreme, precise, and lethal force, begging the question of just who Harry Hill is, where he came from, and why he'd take a job in security in the first place.
That question is explored in an extended second-act flashback that opens the door for the film’s true plot to come into focus, so I won’t dive too deep into spoiler territory, but the introduction of a heist team headed by Jeffrey Donovan and notably featuring Scott Eastwood delivers on the action promise that one would expect from a film with armored security at its core. The second act divergences do get a little long in the tooth before looping back around to H’s story proper, and the film’s weak explanations for why law enforcement turns a blind eye to obvious criminality are half-hearted at best, but the premise is compelling and immersive as the layers of motivation and intrigue unravel into controlled, violent chaos.
Most striking for how this film fits into Ritchie's oeuvre, though, is how it sees the auteur grapple with unironic tragedy as the core of the narrative. Adapting the French film Cash Truck with co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Mam Davies, Ritchie’s interpretation of Wrath of Man appears to come from a place of self-critique and growth, as odd as that may sound coming from a director who cut his teeth on portraying hypermasculine criminality. Though Ritchie’s trademark quipping is present throughout, it is often delivered from the mouths of security guards whose bravado contrasts their cowardice under fire, which is in turn contrasted by H’s steely calm and resolve in any circumstance. It's a pointed commentary on how words mean much less than actions, and no amount of boy's club boasting will make up for an inability to act under pressure.
Furthermore, Statham’s performance is a subtle inversion of his usual tough-guy persona, tortured by a deep well of humanity and sadness that is never fully unmasked but drives his every action. It never goes so far that Statham plays against type, but it’s indicative of a story that is driven by explorations of masculine strength without theatrical displays, a cool developed from the heartbreak of experience rather than the aspirations of starry-eyed youth. Stripped away are the eccentricities of larger-than-life crime figures in favor of an almost frightening darkness, a competency for violence that demonstrates introspection over spectacle.
Fans worried that Ritchie strays away from his usual stylism have nothing to worry about, though the results are more muted in accordance with the film’s overall tone. Cinematographer Alan Stewart delivers dynamic shots that convey the blunt brutality of the action and the emotional depth of scenarios where characters say less than what they mean and have depths better explored without words. The real showstopper sequence of the film is accompanied by a haunting rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Fulsom Prison Blues” that emphasizes the gravity of its scenario in ways that won’t leave me any time soon and establishes this as a seminal work of Ritchie’s canon.
Further nitpicking could highlight how wooden line delivery from many minor supporting characters would indicate a lack of consistent direction of quality performances across the sprawling cast, but Wrath of Man is far too entertaining and engrossing to get lost in those weeds for too long. As strange as it may be to say of a director who has been making films for most of my life, Guy Ritchie’s trademark boyish braggadocio seems to have finally caught up with the realities of aging out of being a kid with something to prove. It’s a different kind of Guy Ritchie, but it’s familiar for knowing where it came from, resulting in a film that is an evolution of form that we’ve been waiting on for the better part of a decade. Dark and serious suits you, Mr. Ritchie. Keep it up.
Wrath of Man opens in theaters on May 7, 2021.
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