When Guy Ritchie, British director extraordinaire released The Gentlemen (2019), it signaled a return to his earlier worlds established in movies like Snatch (2000) ; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998); and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015). Ritchie’s nerve-racking plots feature British dons, spies, elaborate gang rackets, and a clash of authority amongst the nefarious gangs. There is often a wronged anti-hero lead, a convoluted premise disjointedly elaborated towards an emotional arc which is resolved in the third act.
The key to Guy Ritchie’s recent films is an important mystery that remains secret until the final scenes of the film. With The Gentlemen, it’s whether Mickey Pearson lives or dies. These elements are present in Wrath of Man. It is a film that starts and ends how a film like this should. But there is nagging tediousness about Wrath of Man, perhaps an overfamiliarity with Guy Ritchie’s core elements, the unnecessarily circuitous route the plot took, or the lackluster lead played by the energetic Jason Statham. Or it could be all of this, rolled together, revealing themselves at various points of the movie.
Wrath of Man opens with ingenious sharp edits, a quick-paced robbery accompanied by a frenetic sound effect, mobile camera movements, gunshots, then the controlled normalcy of exposition. Only Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino can make driving to and fro a bank so frantic. H, played by Jason Statham, is the new guy at a cash transporting company, Fortico. He barely passed the application test but when the company’s armoured buses, bearing cash and H, are attacked by armed robbers twice, he shows great mettle by murdering every single member of one gang, and merely showing his face to the leader of the second gang. The movie opens quickly, but first, there is the onslaught of funny names traditional to Guy Ritchie, an onslaught of subtle and brazen homosexual innuendo. Finally, the knowledge that a dark ruse is at play is introduced. So begins the movie.
Statham does nothing new playing H beyond his constant inaudibility and perpetual stoicism. Unlike his livelier roles in movies like Crank (2006), Jason Statham inspires nothing here beyond the intrigue of violence. While this is the primary requirement of characters such as this, there are examples—within Guy Ritchie’s filmography (Ilya Kuryakin, played by Armie Hammer, from The Man from U.N.C.L.E)—of successful stoic characters. H is a boss so powerful he has no need for charisma. He has spent so many years consolidating his authority, proving his ruthlessness that he has no need for words and no need for expressive mannerisms. Quietude, frowning, and pronounced violent actions are what fuel his power. He also has the armour of invincibility. The knowledge that no matter how difficult this revenge mission gets, no matter how tough his enemies become, he will prevail. Naturally, that reduces the stakes.
The Wrath of Man is slower than a regular Guy Ritchie film. The mystery that held intrigue in The Gentleman is not as prominent here because, unlike The Gentlemen, it isn’t centered around the lead. There is an expendability to H. A sense that he has nothing to live for beyond his revenge. We know he will get this revenge, which the movie establishes as its crux, so whether H dies afterwards means nothing to us as long as that revenge is accomplished and resolved. What this does is that it disconnects us from character. And the mystery itself, that served as the strength of The Gentlemen, is revealed too early in the third act, earlier than Ritchie usually reveals his mysteries.
In spite of its flaws, this is still a Guy Ritchie film. The sound, the ambience, the disjointed plot, the glorification of masochism and violence, are all laid bare and stand prominent in numerous scenes. There are also minor reveals that jolt the audience momentarily; the revelation of each title card’s meaning in their sections for example. All of these keep intrigue in the audience. Yet it should be no surprise that one would leave this movie certain that Guy Ritchie has done better at an older date.
- The final showdown between Statham and the robbers is a violence fest.
- Statham shines as a macho lead and nothing more.
Wrath of Man is currently showing in theatres.