Wrath of Man: Mainlining Misanthropy
If you miss the opening credits, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t guess that Guy Ritchie directed Wrath of Man. In his remake of Nicolas Boukhrief’s 2004 French film Cash Truck, Ritchie mostly abandons the hyper-frenetic visual style and comedic undercurrent that’s defined much of his work in favor of a more formalistically restrained and overwhelmingly bleak approach — more than anything, Wrath of Man feels like Ritchie’s attempt at Heat, but an unbalanced narrative and consistently oppressive tone merely makes for a solid but ultimately forgettable crime thriller.
Solid may actually be too much, given that Wrath of Man introduces its primary cast — the employees of an armored truck company, charged with transport and safekeeping of cash and valuables — via a locker room walkthrough filled with the sort of casual homophobic and misogynistic banter that I’d thought most studio films had all but excised over the past decade. Ritchie is of course no stranger to controversy — The Gentlemen was rightfully lambasted over its casual racism — and it remains frustrating that apparently no one felt it necessary to say “hey, Guy, maybe we can represent toxic masculinity [the most generous interpretation of this sequence] without resorting to tired and offensive tropes.”
If you can look past the early jokes about men dating men and women’s role in the workforce — and I don’t blame you if you can’t — Ritchie does drop the subject, mostly because there’s essentially no place for even lazy attempts at humor in the rest of Wrath of Man. The film follows Jason Statham’s Patrick Hill, a new employee at Fortico Security and a figure with a past that’s clearly not what it appears given his ability to foil truck robbery attempts with pinpoint headshots and a seeming lack of care about his or anyone else’s wellbeing. As the story unfolds through a series of ominously named chapter breaks (“A Dark Spirit,” etc.) and back and forth time jumps, we sink deeper and deeper into the worst recesses of the criminal underworld, sympathizing with Hill’s mission while simultaneously wondering if we’d have been better off not understanding what drove him here.
Statham has proven himself to be a deftly self-aware action star, and his presence does manage to give Wrath of Man a human core, even if it’s a slightly rotted one. Statham’s star power also highlights the film’s biggest structural flaw: the episodic nature and attempt to craft a Heat-esque epic leads Ritchie to spend far too much time with the ultimate villains, sidelining Statham for much of the third act in favor of the likes of Scott Eastwood who, while perfectly serviceable, just can’t hold our attention the same way. Things turn around with a legitimately exciting final half hour — the film’s setpieces are for the most part excellently crafted and stomach-churningly tense — but by that point the movie has lost a little too much steam. Technically savvy but excessively misanthropic, Wrath of Man can be a thrill to see in theatres but may play best in its eventual cable presentation — and maybe we’ll even get a TV edit that makes the necessary cuts that Ritchie couldn’t be bothered by.