After a decade of franchise filmmaking, an era in which Guy Ritchie dipped his toes into Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, and even Disney, it appears the English filmmaker is returning to his gangster-flick roots, though this time opting for more of an American aura. After the moderately successful and very entertaining The Gentlemen (2019), Ritchie has reteamed with Jason Statham for a fourth time with their latest venture, Wrath of Man.
Statham stars as Patrick “H” Hill, a mysterious nobody who earns a job at Fortico, a security company tasked with guarding and transporting millions of dollars across Los Angeles on a weekly basis. H arrives with a glowing recommendation, though his reason for being at Fortico is thrown into question after an impressive display of gun-fu to halt a truck heist. Millions of dollars? Gun violence? Jason Statham? The table is set for A Guy Ritchie Film.
Guy Ritchie has an aversion to a conventional film structure. Wrath of Man, across it’s 118 minutes, features leaps back and forward in time, sometimes days, weeks, or months at a time; there is a genuine feeling of whiplash at times as we catch up with a new host of characters and their respective roles in the sprawling plot. Certainly, Statham is the beating heart of the plot, inadvertently finding himself at the centre of a truck heist gone tragically wrong, but Ritchie has a swath of engaging actors at his disposal to ease any potential timeline-tracking fears. Holt McCallany, Eddie Marsan, and Josh Hartnett are his Fortico colleagues, Jeffrey Donovan and Scott Eastwood are local gangsters looking for their next score, and you’re even joined by such faces as Rob Delaney and Post Malone, just to cover any remaining target audience bases.
Truthfully, courtesy of its decidedly Guy Ritchieian structure, Wrath of Man suffers from a lack of plot momentum. At any point where it feels as if something is about to kick things into gear, we take a jump back to the start of the story from a different character’s perspective, and we start the journey all over again. It’s a curious experience; while the process of getting to the crucial point in which the multitude of story strands intersect is entertaining enough, and indeed creates a particularly fiery final act, the stop start approach to the story never allows any of its characters time to shine.
Josh Hartnett’s Boy Sweat Dave (presumably the name written on his birth certificate) has an attempted character arc at discovering his courage in battle, though this is reserved to two scenes over an hour apart in screen time. Scott Eastwood’s Jan is nothing more than the bad guy within the gang of already bad guys, and revels in the opportunity to look smug at every possible opportunity. His performance works in this regard, the villain of the piece constantly acting like a dick, but a little more depth to any of the characters wouldn’t have gone amiss. Holt McCallany’s Bullet (no one in any Guy Ritchie film is ever allowed a normal name) fares best of the supporting players as H’s minder, relishing the opportunity to express his uncertainty of H at every moment, but enjoying his verbal sparring matches with the stoic Stath.
Of course, Statham has earned his position as a genuine leading man in exactly this kind of film. His H is a cold, calculated, quiet, ruthless gangster who will not let anyone get in his way on his revenge warpath, something excellently portrayed by Christopher Benstead’s impressively ominous score. While it may be a character Statham could play in his sleep, there really is no one better at what he does, and he delivers the cold-blooded one-liners (“suck your own dick” before shooting someone in the face was a particular highlight) as well as he takes out whoever makes the mistake of getting in his way. Wrath of Man’s attempts at an emotional undercurrent live and die by Statham’s performance, and while he’s never been the most emotive of performers, the pain he feels and his genuine pleasure at inflicting pain on those who harmed him comes through tenfold.
The problem, though, is Ritchie’s decision to craft cold and calculated scenes in a bid to mimic his main character. The camera rarely moves from its spot, aping H’s stoic persona, opting for slow, methodical zooms as any conversation reaches its end. Ritchie is renowned for his brand of hyperactive filmmaking, and elements of it remain here, but the camera never elevates the action on screen in the same way it has done in previous films. Working again with his Aladdin and The Gentlemen cinematographer, Alan Stewart, both of their previous efforts together had more zip to them, more energy to convey the action on screen. Here, despite an early commitment to extended tracking shots, as the action ramps up in the final act, the camera never follows suit, resulting in limp, lifeless sequences that should be anything but. The din of gunfire takes over in an intense depot heist near the film’s conclusion, but you can’t help but feel it’s missing a creative spark to truly entertain.
Wrath of Man features a typically Jason Statham performance – he takes his strong, silent type persona to new heights here – and has all the elements you’ve come to expect from a Guy Ritchie feature. Sadly, though, the elements never manage to come together in the same way as they have done in the past. It’s a slow burn that doesn’t have the necessary pay off to make the slow burn worth it, and a gangster-heist thriller that lacks that crucial element that makes any thriller – any thrills at all.
WRATH OF MAN opens exclusively in US theatres on May 7, 2021.
It will open in the UK on July 23, 2021.