Oh dear. What a disappointment. If you caught the trailer of this Guy Ritchie directed crime film you may expect another one of his wisecracking, inventive and hard edged capers like last year’s “The Gentlemen”. Sadly, “Wrath of Man” is far from that. It takes itself too seriously, much more so than you would expect from Guy Ritchie. Wrath of Man is in the end a rather nasty treatment of a revenge/vigilante tale.
The film is based on a 2004 French thriller called Le Convoyeur or Cash Truck. I have not seen that film, but in this version our hero/anti-hero is the square jawed and implacable Jason Statham. He plays H, who is out to destroy a group of ex military types who have taken to robbing the armoured cars of Los Angeles of their cash. The robbers have inadvertently taken something precious to H, and he will at stop at nothing to get his justice. The body count is suitably high. (And, in this post Game of Thrones world, characters you might expect to survive, don’t)
In the first part of the film there are, to be fair, promising signs. The opening sequence, shot from a single camera position, hints at twists to come. There are chapter headings and the story changes its timeline, all leading you to think that Mr Ritchie has more treats to come. But the longer the film goes, the more you realise the treats are not there. Well, unless you find your treats in brutal violence and greed, hammered home by a heavy sounding and repetitive soundtrack. Guy Ritchie’s trademark tongue in cheek humour is scarcely to be seen.
So the film wants to give you a gritty crime tale, but for it to be successful you need to care about its characters. Statham is Statham. He changes not a jot from film to film and in action movies that’s all well and good. You know what to expect and that’s what you get. In this case though, his character has a lot going on. Without spoiling the story, there are layers to H’s story and Statham isn’t going to give you any shades of interpretation around that. In the end, some of the other characters, cliched though they are, take your attention away from the leading man. Holt McCallany as Bullet hints at more going on under the surface, and Jeffrey Donovan as the leader of the rogue military unit does his best.
Maybe setting the story in the United States robbed Guy Ritchie of his chance to infuse the film with his British not-take-yourself-too-seriously way of looking at a story like this. And as Wrath of Man unfolds I kept thinking about how its story sits against the backdrop of our times. In the U.S. thousands take to the streets protesting at the use of police violence against civilians. Every other week it seems some unhinged person shoots people dead in a school or a shopping mall. Yet here we have a story extolling violence as a way of redressing wrongs. A few weeks before, the film Nobody showed a main character who could not feel like a real man unless he was hurting or killing people.
The answer is, of course, that as long as these films draw an audience, movie makers will continue to produce them. It will be fascinating to see how big an audience is drawn to Wrath of Man.