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With: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonzo, Raúl Castillo, DeObia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies, based on a screenplay by Nicolas Boukhrief, Éric Besnard
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexual references
Running Time: 118
Date: 05/07/2021

Wrath of Man (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ire Fighter

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in theaters, Wrath of Man is the twelfth film by English director Guy Ritchie, and his fourth with actor Jason Statham.

The pair rocketed to fame together in their first movies, 1998's Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, and 2000's Snatch.

Those wild, Tarantino-inspired crime films came packed with colorful characters, delightfully twisty plots, and slick, adrenaline-fueled pacing.

Few would argue that Ritchie has made anything quite as good since. Wrath of Man is almost the hoped-for return to form, but it's also missing something.

It would be a disservice to describe very much of the plot, but it starts, strikingly, with an armored car robbery.

The camera is inside the truck, and we listen to the banal conversation, about a squeaky door, cold coffee, etc. between the two drivers up front.

Through the windshield, we witness a roadblock, followed by a welding torch penetrating the door, and then an incendiary device tossed inside.

The drivers are executed, but so is a third person, an innocent bystander.

Then we meet Patrick Hill (Statham), soon to be known by his new nickname, "H." He applies for a job at the Fortico armored car company.

He has good references, and seems qualified. An older driver, nicknamed "Bullet" (Holt McCallany) takes him through the training program, and he just barely passes his gun test.

The other drivers — including "Boy Sweat Dave" (Josh Hartnett) — rib the newbie mercilessly, and "H" takes it in stride. However, when his truck faces an attempted robbery, he quickly and effortlessly dispatches the robbers, without wasting a bullet.

He becomes something of a hero in the office, but remains unmoved. His boss (Eddie Marsan) starts to think he might be crazy.

That feeling escalates when another robbery attempt occurs. The crooks simply get a look at "H" and run away.

Since this is Statham, it's obvious that there's something more to this "H" character than meets the eye, and soon the movie shifts gears to let us in on what it is.

It jumps back in time, twice, to that opening robbery attempt, and we learn that "H" is seeking revenge. But his target, or targets, isn't among the usual suspects, and seems nearly impossible to track down.

A few more time-jumps shifts focus to different characters, and soon a linear story unfolds, leading up to a showdown between "H" and the person who did him dirty.

Since Ritchie comes from the school of Tarantino, he knows how to handle violence. Far more than just the typical shaky-cam, choppy editing, and lack of concern for human life, Wrath of Man makes its violence cinematic; it moves, it excites, and it shocks.

A remake of a 2004 French film, Cash Truck, the plot of Wrath of Man comes out impressively clear, despite all the flip-flops in time. Indeed, that structure builds several surprises into what would otherwise be a pretty straightforward revenge movie.

Yet, it somehow doesn't quite have the sparkle that Lock, Stock... and Snatch did. Perhaps this is because Ritchie is now 20 years older and may take things a bit more seriously, or perhaps it's because the death in this one is given a certain gravity.

Even the dialogue in this one somehow sounds a bit too practiced and memorized; the supposed zippy locker-room banter between the armored car drivers sounds like an improv class, with everyone taking turns.

But arguably the most ill-fitting element is Statham himself. Throughout his career and his forty-plus feature films, he has established a strong screen persona.

With his growling, streetwise English accent and his burly bulldog physique, he's often a lone wolf with a righteous sense of duty. But often, he's very funny, trading nasty barbs with worthy partners, like Stephen Graham in Snatch or Dwayne Johnson in Hobbs & Shaw, or even flat-out killing it in comedies like Crank or Spy.

In Wrath of Man, he barely speaks, and he never cracks a smile. His mission comes from a place of hellish hatred, and there's no place for joy in it.

Even weirder, the movie gives him a position of authority, with many subordinates who are devoted to him, but also terrified of him, constantly walking on eggshells around him.

In that cool robbery sequence, Statham grumbles "let me handle this," before doing his familiar thing, but in later sections, he stands, grim-faced, as his lackies do the work, and it just doesn't feel right.

Maybe Wrath of Man was more a movie for Liam Neeson, or maybe even Brad Pitt, who, in Ritchie's Snatch, stole all of his scenes as the unintelligible bare-fist boxer Mickey O'Neil.

But these after-the-fact "what ifs" don't serve any movie. Let's just say that Wrath of Man is nearly there, with its sturdy construction, and its solid storytelling. And, regardless of whether Statham was the right man for the job, he is always worth a watch.

Perhaps next time, though, there could be a bit less "wrath" and a bit more "man."

The Blu-ray release from Warner Bros. surprisingly comes with no extras at all, not even a trailer. There's a descriptive audio track and optional subtitles, and a digital copy, and the audio and visual transfers are fine, but otherwise... pretty bare-bones. It's a decent enough movie, but to really pull fans in, WB needed to do more on this one.

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