Movie Review: Guy Ritchie's 'Wrath Of Man' Is Wildly Unexpected
As I watched Jason Statham take the elevator down at the end of Guy Ritchie’s bleak new crime film Wrath of Man, I thought of another movie-ending elevator ride, the one that closes the exceedingly disturbing 1987 Mickey Rourke / Robert DeNiro horror-mystery Angel Heart. And I wished there were something to hint at an even more grim possibility in Ritchie’s already-grim movie. Statham, known to us for most of the movie simply as “H,” is certainly a kind of angel of vengeance, although there’s no real indication he’s anything supernatural, other than the fact that of course you can’t kill him. Or if there is an indication, it’s such a slight wisp of an idea that it only really exists in me, wondering if Ritchie meant for this elevator ride to look this way.
None of which is a criticism, just what was floating through my head as I watched Ritchie not quite stick the landing in his very-good-not-quite-great revenge tale, a dark, brooding film with neon-bright flaws I was willing to look past.
Wrath of Man opens, as every movie should, with a heist. And as will be the case for much of the first half of the film, we’re not quite sure what’s going on, with the camera held stationary inside an armored truck, while something is happening outside. How this all went down, and what it all means, will be revealed later in the film, but for now, it’s happened, and soon after Statham, as “H,” shows up as a new hire at the armored truck company that was assaulted. It’s clear something is up with him, that we have no idea what his story really is despite what he tells his employers, and that it’s a bit suspicious that he performs just well enough on his entrance tasks to qualify for the job, but not so well as to raise any eyebrows.
We do spend much of the first half of the movie in the dark, figuratively and tonally, while we wonder what H is up to, and when it all starts to be revealed, it’s frankly pretty confusing, at least for a bit. It makes sense eventually. Mostly. But it’s also thoroughly absorbing. This mystery of H is kicked up by Statham’s ability to stay steely and stoic, giving away nothing, not even a hint of whether he’s planning a heist of his own, looking to thwart one, or something else entirely.
Ritchie’s usual zippy stylistic tricks are almost all gone here, and while he hasn’t fully mastered this bleak tone, he drives it hard and with a confident dark energy. The performative hyper-masculinity of Ritchie’s characters in earlier films is there, but this time, it feels sad and lays bare how much each character is drastically overcompensating for their lack of power. This is a welcome departure from Ritchie playing that masculine posturing for sometimes-questionable laughs, but unfortunately that departure doesn’t extend to his knack for godawful dialogue, some of which is so bad here that you wonder if it’s somehow self-aware in a way you can’t figure out, and it makes you question if the rest of the film is actually as good as you think it is.
One thing you never question, though, is Statham. His charisma is off the charts; it’s rare you see someone who provides so few expressions and says so few words, but who you can’t tear your eyes from. Which is, it turns out, a double-edged sword, as it becomes apparent just how important he is to the film when Ritchie departs from him for long stretches in the middle, as we learn about the people H is actually after, and what they did to deserve what’s coming. Even if you hadn’t realized the gravitational force of Statham’s presence before, it’s all too noticeable when he’s not on the screen, and the movie suffers for it.
For all the mystery in the first half of the film, though, once we know what’s happening, we also know how it will all turn out. This is not necessarily a problem—watching it happen, these very bad men doing very bad things, it does seem like Ritchie is taking it seriously. The action is brutal, he doesn’t seem to be trying to impress us with his style, and H exacting his revenge is just what we want out of this.
Except—now we arrive back at the end. It ends as it must, as we expect, but Ritchie elides so much between the climactic violence and H’s ultimate vengeance that it feels as if he’s just lost interest a bit. Yes, we know where we’re headed, we know this is what will happen, but perhaps give us just a bit more about how we got from there to here? Or, anything at all? That H is essentially indestructible, we know, and so we don’t need a map, but a little bit of something to fill in the gap would have made it feel less like Ritchie was simply carrying out his duty to finish the movie. And when we’re left with gaps, we fill them in ourselves, and end up wondering about supernatural beings and cinematic quotes that may not exist.
But this is ultimately a small complaint about a kind of film we don’t see a lot of these days, a serious, adult action film that isn’t afraid to stay serious, and that doesn’t try to impress us with a lot of self-satisfied style. That it comes from Guy Ritchie, who has historically been nothing if not self-satisfied style, is wildly unexpected, but if this is the direction he’s heading, I’m absolutely here for it.