Guy Ritchie has had quite the fascinating career as a director. Starting off as England’s answer to Quentin Tarantino (some would say imitator of) with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, you never would have imagined two decades ago that he would go on to make oddball blockbusters like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and certainly not the live-action adaptation of Disney’s Aladdin. While the latter film was unsurprisingly Ritchie’s most commercially successful project yet, he followed it up with a return to his roots in last year’s controversial but critically acclaimed The Gentlemen. One of the last films to get a proper theatrical release before COVID lockdowns, it’s surprising to realize that it’s only been a little over 12 months before Ritchie has dropped another picture – his third in three years.
Wrath of Man sees him reuniting with the man who he started this whole journey with – Jason Statham. The two broke out with those turn of the century films and then went their separate ways, coming back together again for a film that goes in yet another new direction for the filmmaker. While being back with Statham for a crime movie would give the impression that Wrath of Man is a return to his cheeky early days, it’s actually a throwback bruiser based on the 2004 French film Cash Truck from director Nicolas Boukhrief. The plot sees Statham’s Patrick “H” Hill hired for a new job as an armored truck driver, where the audience and his co-workers quickly discover that he has a knack for busting heads. When a planned robbery on his truck ends with H massacring an entire fleet of criminals, it becomes quite clear that there is more to this new hire than meets the eye.
The mystery element of Wrath of Man is perhaps where it falters the most. For starters, the answer ultimately isn’t that interesting – it’s more or less what you would have expected when the very first pieces are laid out. On top of that, though, the script (by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies) puts in a lot of effort to play with structure in an attempt to make the narrative more exciting. This technique backfires, instead having us sit through an extensive flashback sequence that completely halts the momentum of the picture right as it was starting to groove. It’s a stultifying move that brings the rhythm of the picture to a dead halt.
Thankfully, once we get all of the answers that we needed (with no real surprises) and are back in the present day, the film really hits a high. The extensive climactic sequence sees Ritchie going full-on ‘70s machismo with one hard-hitting action beat after another that allows you to feel every shot, every hit, every takedown. Wrath of Man isn’t the sort of silly lad shenanigans of Lock, Stock or the slightly tongue in cheek action entertainment of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a brutal revenge flick that actually feels brutal. You can almost start to feel bad for the poor fools who get in Statham’s way, yet the cast is so good at playing up the sleaze to the right degree – even if Ritchie’s penchant for random, totally odd bits of homophobia, racism, and sexism manages to poke its head through yet again.
Nevertheless, this is one of Ritchie’s most enjoyable ensemble casts in his career, adding in some new blood like Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, and Josh Hartnett to his regulars like Statham and Eddie Marsan in his usual small role for the director. Statham in particular is the best he’s been on screen in quite a while. The actor has been having a lot of fun in recent years throwing a bit of a comedic tilt onto his persona in films like Hobbs & Shaw or Spy (the latter still probably his career best), but here he ratchets up the intensity and it finds the perfect pitch for the movie. There are some scenes, especially early on, where it feels like the film is trying a little too hard to be the old Ritchie – unsurprisingly this is where those weird, dated elements mostly come into play – but it sings when he allows it to simply be the knock-around bad people doing bad things movie it’s clearly harkening back to.