Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man ★★★★★


I was pleased not to have to write specifically about this movie because I wasn't in the mood to deconstruct why it works so well. It's amazing and tense. It fucking shreds. Isn't that enough? For once I didn't have to think overlong about character and whether or not I liked anyone or cared about their journey. Unlike Revolver it's not that kind of movie. Ritchie's in shark mode here, which revealed something kind of interesting about him. In his lad movies (The Gentlemen, RocknRolla, even Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) there's the ever-present threat of homosexuality among his gangsters. It's coyly redacted (Gerard Butler begrudgingly dancing with Tom Hardy) but nevertheless whenever anyone wants to get a man's goat in Ritchie's films, the insult they reach for first and foremost is "girl."

Wrath of Man is the long-awaited step out of the shadow of doubt vis-à-vis the usual masculine posturing. Every character here leers and pouts and constantly calls into question everyone else's masculinity. This on the one hand is borrowed from the French crime milieu from which its derived, but also it's Ritchie's way of setting up the tense under-netting. "These are bad guys, they're all assholes, and even worse beneath all the homophobia is nothing but oily mistrust and spinelessness. These are not happy people; they don't like each other or themselves." When push comes to shove, they're all stupid, they're not good at their jobs, and the homophobia is a meaningless expression of their imagined (and then confirmed) inferiority. Josh Hartnett has to be commended here (what a 2021 he's having!), playing such a beautifully specific type of feckless coward. His entryway is all loathsome swanning and oneupmanship which then leads to his becoming a sputtering weeping wreck at the first sign of danger, and then the final act includes his having to navigate whether it means something to him to be "a man," and best of all? He is not rewarded at all for crawling toward manliness because in this movie it's a lie. There is no "manliness" here, there's just the ability to mow down innocent people.

Statham really only has one thing the other guys don't have: purpose. Yes, he's a complete monster, rather Terminator-like in Ritchie's framing, but he only returns the insults thrown at him. He has no interest in demeaning or undermining people, because he knows if he wanted to actually undermine these guys he could just kill them. He does it to seem more human to these lowlifes. He's maybe a weird extension of that kind of preposterous Zen übermensch Ritchie so loves and respects but also, he's a stone cold psychopath who has turned away from all love and affection. He's not exactly a "hero." And further, who is it later revealed is the worst of this bunch? The people who'd make a man turn himself into a human fist? Veterans.

Wrath of Man's villains are basically Blackwater or GRS contractors at home, the kind who kill people for fun in Pakistan and Iraq. I was thinking for a minute that this had sort of eluded Ritchie but he kept doubling down so that we wouldn't miss his point. There is SO MUCH TALK about how at least in war you know who the enemy is. That they're taking their delta force training to the streets of LA. The movie plays thus not like Heat but like a field-stripped Den of Thieves, with an actual idea that everyone here is a lunatic and that if anyone here had just joined society instead of deciding to carry a gun, none of this would have happened to them. Time and again during the climax, the rent-a-cop b-characters all say out loud that they can't wait for reinforcements, that they have to "go now," echoing the kind of gung-ho talk they would have heard in war movies. And by and large, that ends with them having their skills handily disproved. On the one hand: boisterous losers who are all obsessed with being the manliest man in the room. On the other: former marines who can't just enjoy that they have lives with wives and kids who have to go shooting up banks and stuff because they're bored. In an era of state-sponsored war toy movies made by people with honest-to-god defense department contracts, this movie has a genuine edge in its attitude toward the kind of people who want to carry guns around to act tough.

Add to that some of the most precise and unrelenting "messy" action set-pieces that never lose clarity, a raft of interesting performances, and this became my favourite American movie of 2021.

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