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?
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.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021