The term auteur doesn’t get tossed around much in relation to Guy Ritchie, but it’s hard to argue that the bulk of his filmography feels, well, Ritchie-esque. Think eccentric characters, quippy dialogue, sharp action, and an inconsistently successful sense of humor. When it all comes together we get films like Snatch (2000) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), and when it doesn’t we’re saddled with whatever Revolver (2005) was aiming for. All of this is to say that his latest, Wrath of Man, is an action thriller that, if you didn’t already know it was directed by Ritchie — you wouldn’t know it was directed by Ritchie.
H (Jason Statham) is a new hire at a highly profitable armored car company that recently lost two drivers to an armed robbery. He delivers an average score on the shooting range and is so stone-faced you’d think he just arrived from Easter Island, but he comes alive when his first day on the job is interrupted by attempted robbers. All six are left deceased at the wrong end of his gun, and while the police know more than they’re letting on — they recognize him as a well-known criminal but decide to let his apparent ruse play out — his co-workers become even more curious about him. Bullet (Holt McCallany) thinks he’s the bee’s knees, Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) hates him instantly, Dana’s (Niamh Algar) already planning to bed him, and boss man Terry (Eddie Marsan) worries they might just have a fox in the henhouse. Three months later, the truck he’s in is hit again…
Wrath of Man reveals its core premise right there in the title as a revenge movie, and that forthcoming nature continues for nearly every key beat. There are arguably two intended reveals here, one involving H’s motive and the other involving the identity of an “inside man” at the company, but both are so immediately obvious as to be robbed of any power they might have held. Credit Ritchie’s skill set then for salvaging a script that tries to squeeze a symphony out of a onenote tale of revenge.
The script, by Marn Davies & Ivan Atkinson, sees Ritchie return to the scribes behind 2019’s The Gentlemen (and of his untitled next film too), but while that movie embraced all of the director’s cinematic loves their second collaboration feels nearly devoid of personality. The story, a remake of the 2004 French thriller Cash Truck, jumps around in time and perspective in ways that feel unnecessarily restrictive. Four separate time jumps crammed within a tight frame are marked on screen — “Three months later, Five months earlier, Three weeks later, Five months later” — despite the elements within feeling in desperate need of more room to breathe. The film’s division into chapters also devotes an entire section to a team of military veterans looking to get what’s owed them and featuring one short fuse who might just be their downfall, and they’re all characters we’ve seen before. Wrath of Man would have benefited from giving these crooks either more or less time, but as it stands they’re simply filler.
Happily, they’re well-acted filler, and paired with Ritchie’s direction the film’s unnecessarily jumbled narrative fails to drag the film down towards disappointment. In addition to those already mentioned, the cast also features talents like Andy Garcia, Jeffrey Donovan, Scott Eastwood, and Rob Delaney, and cinematographer Alan Stewart keeps their collective antics looking sharp throughout. Viewers will be one or more steps ahead of the story’s bigger beats, but it’s all kept watchable thanks to that cast and, this being a Statham vehicle, the action.
“You just worry about putting your asshole back in your asshole,” says H to someone at one point, but that’s about as expressive and witty as he gets. This is Statham in a more serious mode despite the genre — fitting perhaps as H is a grieving man, but it leaves Statham little to do but walk around without moving his lips — and while it can’t touch his actual action gems he gets to deliver some solid gun play along the way. Smaller action beats exist, but it all builds to a big, messy heist filled with bullet casings, bloody deaths, and professionals stepping out into the open to be gunned down immediately. (That last bit happens far too often.)
While armored trucks don’t actually get hit this often (according to Google), the situation allows for some exciting set-pieces and just enough thrills to carry the nearly two-hour Wrath of Man across the finish line. Despite being a long overdue reunion between Ritchie and Statham, though, it’s a film that allows neither man to channel their biggest strengths — it’s just not all that fun. “Let the painter paint,” says someone about H’s mission of bloodlust, and it’s a sentiment you’re likely to wish had been applied to Ritchie and Statham too.