“WRATH OF MAN”
“WRATH OF MAN”
Starring Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonso, Raul Castillo, DeObia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood, Andy Garcia, Post Malone, Chris Reilly, Niamh Algar, Babs Olusanmokun, Josh Cowdery, Rob Delaney, Lyne Renee
Written by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies
Based on “Cash Truck,” by Nicolas Boukhrief
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Produced by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Bill Block
Cinematography by Alan Stewart
Edited by James Herbert
Music by Christopher Benstead
Guy Ritchie continues a successful recent return to his crime/suspense/action/thriller roots with a thoroughly fun, suspenseful, twisting-and-turning crime action thriller, “Wrath of Man,” that stands as not just a fun movie, but an example of just what a fun, well-made action movie actually can be. That’s notable because, let’s face it, most action movies and most crime movies are, well, just simply not that good. Of course, that could be said for any movie genre, naturally, but the action thriller genre is an interesting area of study because of just how many big, dumb, loud, thudding bombs in this genre actually end up making a ton of money–and that includes many action films with big actors, producers, directors and even writers. At least in other genres, it seems, many big, dumb, loud, thudding bombs flop and gently fade away (yes, there’s always exceptions; we’re dealing in some generalizations here). But the action-thriller genre is full of movies that not only made big money despite their general awfulness, it’s baffling to many folks just why these awful movies succeeded.
Perhaps, on a very basic, barbaric, blood-lust, bloodthirsty, caveman level–sometimes, people just wanna see some thangs explode big-time, and they want to see people shoot up some things–and people–big-time. How else can you explain the movie successes of the rash–and rash is a good word–of movie successes featuring Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and, yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, among others? Why have so many people paid so much money and spent so much time watching what are, in essence, big, dumb, awful action movies? It’s a fair question. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, amid all of the dust, dirt and blood kicked up and punched up by all them dern explosions, grenades, bombs, gun fights, fist fights, car chases, car wrecks and automatic weapon fire.
However, Guy Ritchie, as noted, knows how to make a good, smart, taut, suspenseful action thriller and crime thriller. Of course, he made the acclaimed “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” in 1998; the acclaimed “Snatch” in 2000; and the excellent film “The Gentlemen” just last year, 2020. Now, the equally enjoyable “Wrath of Man” joins these three films as, really, the core, foundation and essence of what Guy Ritchie can really do in film: deliver the basic, required, bloodlust levels of, well, action–but also deliver the action amid a movie that also just happens to succeed on the required concurrent filmic levels of production, direction, writing, acting and editing. And that latter aspect is, of course, an underappreciated aspect of quality action–just how action, suspense, chase and fighting sequences are blocked, marked, choreographed and edited. There’s an art to putting all of this together in just the right manner that the entire movie and its individual action sequences don’t come off as cliched, unoriginal, uninspired or overly-familiar. Ritchie somehow finds his way, his calling and his talents in pulling together these disparate filmic aspects so they are not cliched or overly-familiar. That takes skill, cunning, talent–and cleverness.
Ritchie knows that story, acting, taut direction and quality production need to surround the requisite action sequences, and in his core four action crime thrillers, he indeed pulls it all together. “Wrath of Man” has a clever story with various levels of webs of deception, plot surprises and the aforementioned twists and turns; Ritchie’s direction is relentless, with a dizzyingly fast–yet not rushed or over-done–pace and sense of time and place; editing that is never too modern-jerky or overly-edited, but edited to a point where action comes across as well-timed and well-choreographed; the production value is high, in terms of sets, locations, props, costuming and art direction; and he’s filled this movie with a roster of quality macho-man actors, yes, but macho-man actors that manage to not fall too far into parody range. Some of the actors may tip-toe perhaps a bit too close to that precipice of action-movie macho testosterone over-load, but to their credit, they seem to know when to pull back, stop just at the right moment, and not go over that cliche ledge. It’s okay to be macho and barrel-chested, militaristic and soldier-rigid, somewhat hyper and perhaps somewhat gun-nut-oriented in a crime action movie, of course, but the key, the trick to avoid entering Parodyland is to know when to fold it, and know when to hold it, and know when to walk away from going over that edge. The actors in “Wrath of Man”–and in any good action movie–know this, and they keep things in check.
Some of the better actors tend to balance their macho leading man heroics with humor, if and when they can–Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Burt Reynolds, Brendan Fraser, Chris Pratt, Harrison Ford, Jackie Chan and Bruce Willis (Willis sometimes not so well) can be good examples of this. Other actors tend to balance their macho heroics with something else, perhaps something not easily explainable but perhaps best explained as good ol’ basic presence, style, charisma and personality. The younger Clint Eastwood, and Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton and, for much of the last twenty years, Jason Statham, are examples of this type of action success–letting that pure, mysterious, big-screen presence and charisma–perhaps infused with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned sex appeal, too–infuse their performances to the point that audiences can forget that their scripted dialogue, deeper acting and characterizations, and maybe even the rest of the movie surrounding them just might not be that great. Of course, out of fairness, all of these actors appeared in movies that were good, bad and ugly, and all turned in acting performances that were good, bad and ugly.
In “Wrath of Man,” Jason Statham uses his pervasive presence, charisma and personality to somehow solidly carry the movie and carry the movie forward–despite barely cracking a smile, despite dialogue that rarely, it seems, extends beyond a few words or sentences at a time, and despite barely expressing any emotion that deviates too far from stoic, quiet, reserved, tough and steely-eyed, except for a few choice scenes. However, that’s not putting down Statham at all–because he makes it work, and because Ritchie, as noted, has created a solid film around him that also works. Statham often reminds folks of that younger, soft-spoken, barely-talkative, one-note-emotion, steely-eyed Clint Eastwood of the 1960s and 1970s. And that’s okay as long as he makes it work. And Statham makes it work in “Wrath of Man.”
It must be noted that “Wrath of Man” is based on a 2004 French thriller, “Le Convoyeur,” or “Cash Truck,” that was directed and written by Nicolas Boukhrief.
In “Wrath of Man,” Statham plays Patrick Hill, nicknamed H, a divorced man in need of a new job who takes that new job as a security guard and money-mover with a big-time, high-tech armored-car security company that moves tens, thousands, or millions of cash around modern-day Los Angeles in heavily-fortified, followed, photographed and monitored trucks. It’s a dangerous, tense job, a job where the guards and the trucks can be hijacked, robbed and shot at, but Hill, apparently a career tough-guy, takes the job and takes to it pretty well. He also easily handles jerk co-workers, rude co-workers and the requisite overly-macho co-workers–and the good guys, too–and he handles them all well, meeting them face-to-face and with that steely-eyed, tough-guy demeanor, and never showing weakness or caving in to or taking the bait from their dumb, psychopathic macho jokes and gestures and bad-boy posturing. The heroes, the good guys, are always better than that. And the better filmmakers know that devolving into just another locker room, back room, break room or pool hall fight over nothing is just another cliche–and, to the point, stupid. In “Wrath of Man,” Statham and Ritchie seem to break apart the cliches. In a locker room, H doesn’t take the bait from a stupid co-worker and he walks away. In a pool hall, H doesn’t take the bait from yet another stupid co-worker–and, instead, he buys him a beer and walks away. Ritchie seems to always enjoy taking genre cliches and turning them upside-down and inside-out.
And from H’s first few days on the job and through the rest of the film, that’s what Ritchie and Statham and the cast and crew proceed to do–they take those crime action-thriller cliches and conventions and twist and turn them, changing timelines, chronology, characterizations, plotlines and sub-plotlines and even storylines until all thoughts of tired cliches and conventions are washed away. Instead, the viewer is caught up in varying, layered webs of deceit and deception amid the action, so no one quite knows who is what, and who is doing what to whom. Those layers of deception, surprise and mystery add to the thrills, and the enjoyment, of the movie.
Very little can be revealed about the rest of the plot, because following, guessing and unraveling the plot twists and turns is much of the fun involved with just sitting back and enjoying the movie.
Are there fist fights, gun fights, car chases and violence? Of course there are. But, again, Ritchie keeps the action well-paced, well-timed, well-choreographed, well-blocked, taut, suspenseful and solidly anchored in the story, plot and subplots. The action is not gratuitous–as it is in so many of those awful action movies. And another interesting factor–and major credit to the movie: For most of the time, the violence is not horribly gory and bloody and gut-wrenching, as it is in far too many action movies, from the past and in present times. Action and violence can be done well without showing too much blood and gore, without excruciating, horrible sound effects, and definitely without attention-span-deficit, shaky, over-done and amateurish frenetic and psycho editing that seems to cram too many and so many edits and shots into one scene, the actual action ends up lost and scattershot. Ritchie avoids all of this, and the action and violence remains stylized, but not stomach-churning or gross; people are shot, but there’s not buckets of fake blood flying through the air; and the editing is, well, normal, not over-done. All of which adds up to some enjoyable action sequences–in an overall enjoyable action movie.
Guy Ritchie, welcome home–all is forgiven. Sometimes, in the right filmic circumstances, with the right story, cast and crew–and with the right leading man with the right soft-spoken, steely-eyed presence and charisma–directors can go home again. And Ritchie has found a welcome home once again with “Wrath of Man.”