It’s been over 15 years since Jason Statham and director Guy Ritchie have worked together. Statham went from being a professional diver to a low-level hood in Ritchie’s early gangster films. By 2005’s Revolver, Ritchie was full into numerology while Statham became a popular action star. Now things are at a point where Ritchie has become a blockbuster filmmaker (with hits and misses), and Statham has enough gravitas to parody his image. What is it about Wrath of Man that appealed to them both? It must have been the chance to play with style and image, as, flaws and all, this is about as dark it gets for them.
A remake of the 2004 French film, Cash Truck, Statham stars as H, a man of mystery who has just found himself a job to move around hundreds of millions of dollars in Los Angeles for a cash truck company. This very macho company features various actors who go by names like Bullet (Holt McCallany) and Boy Sweat (Josh Hartnett). H presents himself as a man of few words, but when thieves try to rob his cash truck, he’s quick to the trigger, leaving behind nothing but dead bodies. As we soon learn, H is on a warpath, and there are many out there who don’t even know they have a target on the back of their head.
Two elements stand out in this film, and one of those is the score by Christopher Benstead. Setting a clear tone for this film from the start, the very moody and operatic theme that haunts the film provides a feeling of dread that never lets up. It’s a good hint that more is to come, given the fairly simplistic setup for H as a new cash truck handler. It’s overwhelming at times but also feels different for a Ritchie film, which still has a sense of style but has been shifted in a different direction.
The other key factor is Statham. Settled into a quieter, more calculated mood, Statham may not have the widest range outside of steely cool and sarcastic Cockney (though his comedic chops in Spy certainly suggest a different path he could take), but he’s at the top of his game here. Dialing down the one-liners and running jokes, the serious nature of Wrath of Man has Statham adjusting accordingly. He delivers the action you’d expect, but within this man is something darker – a boiling rage waiting to come out. This may not be the Statham everyone was hoping to see again in a Ritchie film, but the maturity of the performance is welcome.
It’s just too bad much of the film around Statham feels very contrived, with poor dialogue often upsetting the balance. For the most part, there’s a solid cast of tough guys and character actors on hand. Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, Eddie Marsan, and an against-type sinister Scott Eastwood all try to bring a take to this feature. However, this screenplay by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies leaves a lot to be desired. Part of me wants to think there’s a deliberate attempt to channel some older films as far as how exposition and themes are bluntly stated. However, it feels more like Ritchie overcompensating for the lack of humor this time around.
Coupled with the very deliberate score, Wrath of Man is too serious for its own good, save for a few moments where the film gets out of its own way, and the actors bring some fun to what’s taking place. Much of that comes in the form of the failed heists that H spoils by being the one-man army he is. The cash truck company bigwigs being both thankful for the job he’s doing and perplexed by his deadly efficiency, sets up an entertaining angle the film doesn’t go down.
Instead, the film takes a swerve in the middle to provide a lengthy backstory answering any questions in a manner that seems clever to a point until we realize this is going to take an extended amount of time. During this time, attention shifts away from the mysterious nature of Statham to introduce more characters and reemphasize points that a better film could imply through certain actions or visual language. That’s not to say Wrath of Man is poorly assembled, but the delivery of certain elements once again feels like a rehash of things action/thriller fans are used to seeing. It needs an X factor, but limiting the amount of Statham doesn’t help provide it.
Following his return to more familiar territory with The Gentlemen, Ritchie continues to cash his big Aladdin check with something incredibly gritty but with little room for his type of swagger. I can appreciate the toned-down turn from him as far as flashy camera tricks and the editing style (he actually works with a lot of smooth, long takes in this film), but the story and supporting characters do not allow for much help. Being relentlessly grim also doesn’t play all that great by the time this film eliminates certain people in a manner that packs little punch.
Still, if anything, I’m coming down on this film because of how much the ambitious choices didn’t pay off stronger. There is a good enough film here, thanks to what Statham brings to his role and the decidedly different attitude Ritchie goes for. I’m not sure if Wrath of Man believes it to be doing anything all that smart as far as deeper meanings, but as a dark piece of pulp entertainment, it may lack the jolly good fun of a RocknRolla, but there’s some bloody good effort in aiming for new territory.