“Wrath of Man” is the latest action thriller from fan-favorite director Guy Ritchie, popular for his cinematic style, use of slow motion to emphasize the action of his scenes and his nearly decade-long relationship with Madonna among other things. I’ve had the chance to review several of his latest movies on this blog from bad (“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”) to just okay (“Aladdin”) and very good (“The Gentlemen”) but “Wrath of Man” feels like a very different movie from much of Ritchie’s other modern features probably because it seems like the director is hearkening back to the British crime comedies of his early years but this time with less comedy. Based on the French film “Cash Truck” from 2004, “Wrath of Man” is Ritchie’s fourth collaboration with action star Jason Statham, whose career Ritchie launched in the late 90s and early 2000s. Statham stars as H, the latest hire at a cash truck company who proves to be more than he appears when he stops a robbery single-handedly. However, in reality H has infiltrated the cash truck company with the intent of finding the men behind a robbery who also killed his son. “Wrath of Man” sports a lot of Ritchie’s signature flair and will be more than enough to satisfy his fanbase, but for me it was a pretty uneven experience to say the least.
Going in you should know that “Wrath of Man” is a story told out of order taking place in several acts including our introduction to H as a cash truck driver, our introduction to who H really is and what happened to his son, our introduction to the band of thieves who killed H’s son, and finally the climactic showdown the movie is building towards. One of my biggest issues with the film is that the first segment gets things off on the wrong foot from the very beginning. Statham’s H finds himself the target of taunts and schoolyard bullying as the new guy in town at the cash truck company resulting in some cringeworthy dialogue and childish jabs based on male anatomy that immediately cue you in that this movie was written for a very specific audience and feels behind the times. Things only continue to feel off from there in a first quarter that comes off as oddly restrained for Ritchie on all levels leading to H’s big single-handed takedown of potential thieves (including one played by a distractingly cast Post Malone) before the film FINALLY finds some footing in the second segment. This first segment took me completely out of the movie because it exposed a lot of the problems that would litter the rest of the film right away. The script feels childish, the camerawork is oddly restrained, and the gunplay feels simple and lacks energy and excitement. But then, the movie wakes up.
The second and third acts introduce us fully to H and the villains of the movie, a group of soldiers turned thieves. Bloody incidents abound, especially from H, and Ritchie finally starts to incorporate some of his camera tricks into the action albeit, like the Post Malone cameo, creating more of a distraction than effective flair. In fact, a lot of the special touches in this movie feel more distracting than organic. Anyways, if you took the first quarter of the film away the rest of this movie is perfectly watchable but the remaining segments had to make that extra effort to drag me back in and keep me invested after the first segment really didn’t do much for me at all. The finale is really where the film cashes in on a lot of its promises with bloody violence, fun camerawork and combat, some neat twists and real stakes. This is the kind of movie that starts off horribly but slowly builds up to everything you want. I don’t know if this is better or worse than a movie that starts great but can’t stick the landing, but I will say, for me as a viewer, it really tested my patience.
While I appreciated the chapter-esque setup which splits the movie into very specific segments that key us in to whose part of the narrative we’re watching and helps keep things organized for the viewer, it always felt like “Wrath of Man” was stretching for time and purpose. I like the idea. A hardened and capable gunslinger seeking revenge infiltrates the company he knows the thieves he is after will target, where they likely have and insider, in order to take them down for killing his son. There’s a lot that could be done with that premise but it feels like Ritchie and his cowriters weren’t too confident on how to fill the time in between. I can definitely appreciate how the middle segments focus on developing the criminals and who H is behind the scenes setting up the motivations for both parties, but it always feels like we’re watching several different movies mixed in to one narrative right down to Ritchie using different tones, techniques, pacing and even amounts of violence in each segment. This makes the experience as a whole feel a bit disjointed. I’d call it something like a Guy Ritchie anthology movie where all the pieces add up to the final scene. We get to see a small bit of everything that makes this director’s work so fun but never all at the same time. This is why I say this movie will work well for fans of the director but maybe not for everyone unfamiliar with his work who may simply be looking for a competent and engaging action thriller. Going in with a certain bias towards the man who made it and its very capable star, who honestly is the best thing this movie has going for it, is really the best way to enjoy it, otherwise you’ll probably leave disappointed or at least underwhelmed.
“Wrath of Man” is a mixed bag at best, but it’s a mixed bag I think is worth giving a shot even if its imperfections shine clearly right from the start. A childish script and strangely reserved introduction thankfully set viewers up for the worst the film has to offer, and things only get better from their albeit in disjointed fashion leading to a finale worth experiencing. Of course, “Wrath of Man” isn’t necessarily meant to be this great work of art. It’s a return to Guy Ritchie’s roots that is designed to give fans what they’re looking for with the director’s special touches mixed in on occasion to provide that unique experience only he can provide. It’s truly been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that takes me out of it so fast but slowly brings me back in, engaging me more the longer it plays. However, the fact that it had to work me back into things did leave me feeling trapped in the experience waiting for something worth enjoying for almost the first half hour of a less than two hour movie. Once things pick up though I think there’s a little bit of something everyone will enjoy, it just takes a little too much patience for my taste to get there. Fans of Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham will certainly love what the movie has to offer, for casual fans though as fun as the finale might be it might take a little too much commitment on their part to see the shine underneath the rust. Still I can’t help but recommend it even if only as a fun waste of time.