Wrath of Man (dir. Guy Ritchie): Film review

I love a good British gangster film. I love a good revenge film. I love a good heist film. This is why I’m about to declare that Wrath of Man, the British gangster-heist-revenge film from Guy Ritchie, is a legitimately great movie. It’s easily Ritchie’s best in years (no love lost to The Gentlemen, which was quite good), and a strong argument could be made that it’s Ritchie’s best ever. Time and rewatches will have to tell on that front, but from where I stand (sit) at this moment (my living room), I’m absolutely blown away. 

Based on the 2004 film Le Convoyeur (for which the English title is the hilariously direct Cash Truck), Wrath of Man is a film told in four acts, each with a cryptic title card that the subsequent events clarify, often in horrifically violent ways. In act one, titled A Dark Spirit, we meet H (Jason Statham), a mysterious man on his first day on the job as a guard for an armored truck depot. Bullet (Holt McCallany) is there to show him the ropes and introduce him to the crew, a misfit group of tough guys and girls with names like Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett), Hollow Bob (Rocci Williams), and…Dana (Niamh Algar). The depot, run by Terry (Eddie Marsan), has recently lost two of its guards in a violent robbery, and H is here to fill a hole in employment. 

Things go well for H on his first few days. There’s a lot of shit talk, ribbing, and general horseplay, but his no-nonsense exterior, and very, uhhh, forward way of dealing with would-be robbers soon earns the respect of his colleagues. He’s very good at his job — perhaps too good — and he’s much too tight-lipped to let anyone know why. 

The second act, titled Scorched Earth, lets us in on H’s background. The third act, Bad Animals, Bad introduces us to a team of ex-soldiers putting together “one final job.” The job, as you can probably guess, involves robbing armored trucks. The plan is to hit the depot on Black Friday, which is a very big day for the movement of cash. The team consists of a variety of tough guy actors, including Jeffrey Donovan, Deobia Oparei, Scott Eastwood, Raul Castillo, Chris Reilly, and Laz Alonzo. Their large personalities sometimes conflict with one another, but they are professionals nonetheless. If anyone can pull off a job as massive as this one, it’s these guys. 

The final act, Liver, Lungs, Spleen, and Heart brings all the disparate plot lines together, and the results are just…insane. It’s a Guy Ritchie movie. I’ll leave it at that. 

Historically, a non-linear structure such as this is a fickle mistress. It frequently leads to mixed results in terms of clarity, and is often applied as a crutch to avoid adhering to character arcs in a plot-heavy film. In the case of Wrath of Man, the disordered structure effectively serves two masters: it allows for plot information to be dispensed on a need-to-know basis (a must for an effective heist film), while also developing even the smallest characters in what is a pretty large ensemble. Such a broad cast of characters is always at threat of becoming unwieldy, but this never occurs here. In fact, this tale is breathlessly engaging for the entirety of its runtime, often showing a single scene from different angles and at different points of the story, forcing the audience to regularly recontextualize small moments in big ways. 

Being what it is, there are few altruistic characters. It’s a morally murky world populated by ethically compromised people, but all are motivated thoroughly enough that the viewer is on board with even the dirtiest of them. Our hero, if he could be called such a thing, does some seriously awful things, but we root for him all the same (and, more importantly, we root against his enemies). Statham is great at this. I’d dare say he’s made a career off of it. H is not one of his more outwardly charming characters, but his low-volume charisma is out in full force. Statham might not have the widest range, but within his wheelhouse there’s simply no one better, and he’s positively explosive in this role. What he does with his glaring eyes and disapproving scowl is unique to him, and it’s precisely what turned him into a superstar. Add to that some quick, smartass dialogue, as is typical of Ritchie’s non-blockbuster work (sorry Aladdin), and Wrath of Man provides non-stop entertainment. Writ large, it’s a killer flick, but even the small moments are imbued with an electric buzz. 

And much like The Gentleman, this film features some exceptional sweaters. As in clothing, not “people who sweat.” Although, it does indeed feature a lot of very sweaty people. 

I get the sense that this will become one of those “I just want to watch this one scene” movies which ultimately leads to watching the entire movie until the end. Every. Single. Time. 

Ritchie’s direction is on point here. Gone is the hyper-kinetic gaudiness of Snatch (not a complaint about Snatch, mind you), but the same crackling energy is still there. Ritchie’s camera is always moving, and the edit, while very present, never asserts itself to a fault. Long takes and fast-cut scenes sprint forth interchangeably, and neither steps on the other’s toes. It’s a clean product that showcases the continued softening of Ritchie’s visual edges — a softening that comes with the byproduct of added sharpness. Shout out to Ritchie’s longtime editor James Herbert. He knocked it out of the park. 

Composer Christopher Benstead keeps the vibe thrumming as well. One could even say the film has a bit of a theme. The deep-toned melody, often used to highlight the fact that a scene is being revisited from a new angle, resonates in the chest, adding to the near constant state of tension. 

A few small plot elements play a bit clunky, but never so much that they prevent the viewer from suspending disbelief, and for the most part, the story moves so quickly that these small lapses barely register, or at least fade from memory with haste. A small amount of plot slop is to be expected in each of the three genres this film mashes up, so it stands to reason that there’d be a bit of it here. What’s marvelous is that it’s only a bit — for the most part, the multi-tiered plot is tight as a drum. 

Wrath of Man, above all else, is aggressively fun to watch. By blending the best elements of three subgenres and executing them to near perfection, Ritchie has outdone himself in a big way. Theaters are naturally not going to be packed yet, and it’s a shame because Wrath of Man would go great with a crowd. No matter, it’ll damn near knock you silly no matter how you take it in. Don’t miss it.

Released in Philadelphia and nationwide May 7, 2021.

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