Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man ★★★½

While this didn’t exactly knock me out of my seat, I would much rather have Guy Ritchie keep making these types of movies as opposed to returning to Agrabah for the inevitable “Aladdin” sequel. I respect that he attempted something uncharacteristic here. Gone is the acidic British humor accompanying a string of particularly unfortunate coincidences. It has been replaced by an unremittingly glum tone, largely stemming from character’s profound dissatisfaction with their place in life, in no small part also due to a string of particularly unfortunate coincidences. Nonetheless, “Wrath of Man”, set in L.A. and revolving around a string of armored truck robberies, ends up feeling more like a stab at urban heist thrillers in the spirit of “Den of Thieves” than anything I’d normally associate with Ritchie’s handwriting. Ludwig Göransson’s firetruck sirens in reverse also wouldn’t have been entirely out of place here. That said, Ritchie teaming up with Statham for the first time in a decade and a half suggests that he is striving for a return to his roots, even if that might not necessarily entail a bunch of amateur crooks hatching plans at the counter of a pub.

Unlike “The Gentlemen”, which featured an ensemble of both British and American acting royalty, this is more of a hotchpotch of recognizable players from high-caliber television shows. Holt McCallany of David Fincher’s recently cancelled “Mindhunter” has a prominent role as H’s partner Bullet, as does Josh Hartnett as hotshot guard Dave, who fails to recognize that H is far more than he initially advertises himself to be. During one of their first rides together, they immediately get stopped and robbed, but H, in obligatory Jason Statham style, makes quick work of the assailants, all of which are lying in a puddle of their own blood just minutes later. Shit, who the hell is this guy? And why is he wasting his time driving armored trucks? Cue to almost an hour of scenes set five months earlier to awkwardly answer those burning questions.

There are some odd structural choices that result in Statham yielding much screen time and his status as the protagonist to peripheral characters and extensive flashbacks that bring any kind of plot development to a screeching halt until the final thirty minutes. Ritchie has repeatedly played with time jumps and parallel timelines in the past, but here it feels like it’s in service of halfheartedly building up a team of criminals that are all bound to unceremoniously get shot at some point anyway. Jeffrey Donovan, who was one of the staples of cable TV for years on “Burn Notice” but has struggled to replicate that success, is set up to be an intriguing villain, a former platoon sergeant and patriot who felt underappreciated after his return to civilian life and grew bored with the lack of action back home. We see him celebrating his birthday party and promising his kid that he will make an appearance at his game later that afternoon, but he is clearly not especially interested in going any deeper than maintaining the façade of a happy family father. There is potential there, but he has to cede much ground to Scott Eastwood playing a stereotypical loose cannon, who can’t stick to the carefully calibrated plan once piles of cash are in play.

While it takes the film a while to fire on all cylinders, Ritchie is perfectly capable of shooting old-school, high-intensity action set pieces that involve multiple characters pursuing their own, conflicting agendas. So, while Statham doesn’t quite get to unload it on his opponents as frequently as he might have in another “Hobbs & Shaw” outing, the character is nonetheless tailored to his animalistic physicality as a performer. I don’t think this is anywhere near the best thing he or Ritchie have done on their own, let alone together. But I would still consider it the second-best old-school fisticuffs and machine gun fire actioner of the year so far, right after Bob Odenkirk’s “Nobody”. Which isn’t bad company to be in.

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