Wrath of Man

H with a gun


Wrath of Man is director Guy Ritchie and actor Jason Statham’s fourth collaboration since they both broke through in 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It’s a remake of the 2004 French movie Cash Truck and opens with the Metro Goldwyn Mayer logo emblazoned in orange lettering against a hazy cityscape. All very 1970s is the initial impression. And it turns out to be a correct impression since what we get with Wrath of Man is a cut and shut of two 1970s staples – the bank heist movie and the revenge thriller.

The joys of a Statham film come largely in having our expectations satisfied. He’s a trans-cinematic presence, reliably Statham, the bullethead taciturn badass, in pretty much everything he’s in, whether he’s fighting big fish (The Meg), driving fast cars (in various Fast and Furious films), or just staying alive (Crank).

He’s also very happy to play against his image, if the payback is worth it, and the early scenes of Wrath of Man sees a very subpar Statham taking a job at company specialising in the transit of money. Cash trucks.

There’s been a heist, people have been killed, and H (Statham) has been hired to make up the numbers in the security detail. H is not particularly good at shooting and backs off in when in a tight corner but he’s somehow just about squeaked the selection process. This being Statham, it can only be a matter of time before – to borrow the Unforgiven comparison – Clint straps the guns back on, right?

Josh Hartnett with a gun
No hero role for Hartnett



All is eventually revealed in a long central section explaining H’s “this time it’s personal” motivation and assembling a team of crooks for him to go up against, before the film reverts to type for its last third, a frenzy of bullets and badassery done at pace and with style.

The original French film was written by Nicolas Boukhrief and Éric Besnard, who specialise in crime, with Ritchie and rewriters Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson giving the whole thing a wipe over with a cloth drenched in raw masculinity.

Toff Guy is the name of Ritchie’s production company – he’s a posh boy and yet a geezer is the idea – and there’s a PhD somewhere to be written about Ritchie’s take on masculinity in all its big-bollocked swagger. Perhaps the lady doth protest too much, but at least Ritchie does it with a wink, I think – all his men here are dressed in black, permascowling, pitching their voices low – while the soundtrack (by Christopher Benstead) growls away and DP Alan Stewart sees how many lights he can turn off while keeping the image viable. If you see it at a cinema they’ll probably be pumping human growth hormone into the air con.

Both revenge and heist movies run on testosterone, so it makes sense. Even so, there’s a fair bit of overdoing it early on, with characters lining up like contestants in a stereotype badass competition, Statham winning with the line “Dave, you just worry about putting your arsehole back in your arsehole and leave it to me.”

The support players have also been chosen for their ability to suggest they’re endowed with particularly splendid cojones, though Josh Hartnett (edging his way back into Hollywood) is oddly cast as a bit of a whimpering wuss. Scott Eastwood, more often the hero like his dad, Clint, also plays against type and is actually very effective as the baddest of the bad.

Ritchie has dropped the adboy tics. There’s not a fast-edit montage to be seen in Wrath of Man, fanboys, and the film is all the better for it. He’s also lost a lot of the humour that has marked out his output. But he has kept his light touch, enabling the hugely digressive central section delivering oddles of backstory to be swallowed pretty much whole.

It’s much more meat and potatoes than the average Guy Ritchie movie, a lot less knowing than the usual Jason Statham movie, as if the pair of them were aiming at a remake of Assault on Precinct 13 with Charles Bronson starring. And its “more in sorrow than in anger” attitude to the loss of human life is a departure too. Maybe they’re growing up.




Wrath of Man – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



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© Steve Morrissey 2021







RocknRolla

Gerard Butler and Idris Elba in RocknRolla

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

06 September

 

 

Idris Elba born, 1972

On this day in 1972, Eve Elba gave birth to Idrissa Akuna Elba, who shortened his name to Idris after starting school in London’s Canning Town. A big kid at school, Idris had the status that went with it, was good at sport, interested in music, keen on acting, where he found he had the self-confidence to “disappear into the character”. At 14 he was a pirate DJ. At 16 he was a theatre stagehand and also did night shifts at Ford’s Dagenham factory. In his early 20s the acting took off and he went from playing the rogue in Crimewatch reconstructions, to picking up regular bit roles in long-running British TV series such as The Bill and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries before moving to New York. In 2002 he got cast in The Wire, as Stringer Bell, and his life changed. Since then he has played Luther in the BBC series – TV’s angriest cop – and has worked in film with directors such as Tyler Perry, Danny Boyle, Guillermo Del Toro and Ridley Scott. He is about to play Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom. With Elba, you suspect his best work is still to come.

 

 

RocknRolla (2008, dir: Guy Ritchie)

It’s not big, but it is clever, Guy Ritchie’s film about London gangsters and Russian mobsters getting in a lather about a painting is an exercise in straight-faced hard-boiled laughs. Not unlike his other films in fact. But this time out Ritchie has the confidence to more or less dispense with trivial detail such as believable plot or character. Rocknrolla is the sort of film where you know the cut of a man’s jib from the style of his syrup (that’s wig, in rhyming slang), or his dress sense, where the aforementioned painting is introduced as the most transparent of Macguffins, and has just enough presence to compress the many characters together into something resembling a story. This is an exercise in preposterous characterisation, with Idris Elba and fellow Brit contingent Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Hardy doing the majority of the work. Meanwhile the US contingent – the likes of Jeremy Piven and Ludacris – are stapled in, the most obvious of “one morning’s work, honest” contributions which Ritchie, again, does nothing to hide. Can you make a coherent film like this? No, but you can make one that’s a lot of fun.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Mark Strong’s ridiculous hair
  • Another great criminal mastermind role for Tom Wilkinson
  • Thandie Newton playing an accountant
  • Ritchie’s best cockney, mockney, whatever film since… possibly ever

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

RocknRolla – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Snatch

Jason Statham and Brad Pitt in Snatch

 

 

Two years after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie returned with a film that looked, felt and almost smelt the same. Except this time around the story is about bare-knuckle fighting and diamond heists, and Brad Pitt (for the ladies) is playing an Irish tinker, just one of a number of silly ethnic stereotypes, which include Russian gangsters, Jewish jewellers and  a Turkish boxing promoter called Turkish (played by Jason Statham, one minute before he launched his action hero career). Lock Stock traded in the same currency, you’ll remember. As well as Pitt, Snatch is studded with other non-British actors, such as Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Farina. Nevertheless it often feels closer to British comedies of the 1970s – The Confessions of… series or the On the Buses films – though you suspect that Ritchie thinks he’s walking in Tarantino’s shadow. Suck down the flash-harry camerawork and cheeky-chappie humour because the storytelling isn’t much to shout about and Ritchie’s politics are working hard at playing to the lads’ gallery – not very progressive. In spite of those shortcomings, most of which Ritchie would probably shrug off as deliberate or minor, Snatch has managed to pull off something far more outrageous than Madonna’s bra (you have to think your way back to the 1990s to find that line in any way amusing). It takes the most famous twisted British archetype – Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney in Mary Poppins –  feeds him on steroids and foul language and then stuffs him right back down the nation’s insatiable gannet-like throats. And how they – the lads, anyway – loved it. Most of the women were too busy reflecting on Pitt’s physique in the boxing sequence to notice.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 Snatch – at Amazon