For about one minute, I thought Wrath of Man might be a masterwork. For about one minute, it seemed that maybe director Guy Ritchie had left the cartoon gangsters of his early films to channel nihilistic noirs of the postwar era. For about one minute, it seemed like Wrath of Man might be a study in meaningless violence, in which the innocent and the evil, the powerful and the weak, all like together in the same pile of blood.
But then, Jason Statham’s Terminator-like shrugs off yet another set of bullet wounds to continue his quest for vengeance and the movie reminds us that it’s just the same old crime fantasy, made dumber for its pretensions toward high art.
A remake of the 2004 French film Le Convoyuer, Wrath of Man stars Statham as “H,” a work-a-day armored truck driver who is more than what he seems. H comes to work for the company shortly after a truck robbery results in the death of two drivers. The connection between H and the robbery is pretty easy to guess, but the film tries to play coy for a while, dropping hints throughout the first half before it gives up to confirm what we all thought anyway.
I\’d say there\’s more to the movie than that, but there really isn\’t. Sure, some more plot occurs and connections between characters are unveiled, but it\’s all a pretty basic set of tropes. Most won\’t even try to guess the twists but the movie is so mundane that it doesn’t even seem like it has twists. It certainly doesn’t have character development and doesn’t even have that much plot.
Instead, Ritchie fills out the nearly two-hour runtime by adding more characters. Each of the film’s first three acts, helpfully distinguished by title cards displaying a line of dialogue spoken later in the act, introduce characters who fit into one of three groups.
First, we meet the armored truck drivers, who include the affable Bullet (Holt McCallany) and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett), who talks big despite being an obvious wimp. We know the armored truck drivers because devote themselves to macho posturing and questioning one another’s sexuality (don’t worry, H has sex with the film’s one named female character, so we know he’s totally straight!).
Then, we meet the gangsters. The gangsters do bad things, but they are very sad about it. We know that they’re very sad about the bad things that they do because they spend a lot of time talking about how very sad the bad things make them. Also, they stand around and stare at each other in long, unbroken takes, thinking about how very sad they feel about the bad things they do.
Finally, there are the robbers, former soldiers who may feel abandoned by their country or simply bored? It\’s not clear. Led by their sergeant Jackson (Jeffery Donavan), the robbers spend their time either doing robberies or talking about their plans to do robberies. The robbers are largely anonymous, save for Jan (Scott Eastwood), for reasons that are obvious from the moment he opens his mouth.
As I hope this description makes clear, Wrath of Man has pretensions toward a sprawling, Michael Mann crime drama, about hard men making hard decisions, while spouting stylish dialogue. But it seems to have only the most surface-level understanding of what those films are and how they operate. Ritchie and his co-writers simply train their camera at a gaggle of one-dimensional characters in the hopes that something profound will occur.
Worst of all, there is a satisfying revenge thriller someplace in Wrath of Man, if it only had the pride to accept what it truly is. Statham and Ritchie know how to do greasy action movies, clearly better than they know how to do studies in humanity’s violent nature.
Would I have ever thought that movie was a masterpiece, even for a minute? No, of course not. But I would have enjoyed it for the entire runtime.