THE SCREEN SCENE (WRBL) – Guy Ritchie burst onto the film scene as a writer-director with the 1998 indie darling Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. His feature film debut had visual style to burn–speed, ramping, slow motion, kinetic smash cuts, flashbacks within flashbacks. The film also introduced American audiences to Jason Statham four years before The Transporter launched him into action movie stardom.
23 years after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie and Statham leave the streets of London for the industrial parks of Los Angeles in Wrath of Man. Gone are the grifters, gamblers and punch-drunk boxers. They’ve been replaced by a West Coast brand of classier criminals: crime bosses in suits and armed robbers with elite military pedigrees. Wrath of Man is Ritchie’s bid to make a modern crime epic a la Michael Mann’s Heat. Although he never reaches those lofty cinematic heights, Wrath of Man is a solid crime film for fans of the genre.
The film opens with the robbery of an armored car. The camera is positioned in the rear of the vehicle and does not move. Due to the static point-of-view, the audience hears more than it sees. Masked gunmen shout orders. The armed guards are subdued. The gunshots ring out. The perpetrators begin to bicker with one another as they flee the scene. Something has gone wrong.
A title card indicates that time has passed, and we see Patrick Hill (played by Jason Statham) as he applies for a job with the very armored car company that was robbed. Hill is quickly dubbed “H” by his mentor. H is the replacement for one of the murdered guards. As Statham trains for the job, he seems nothing more than competent. Is he holding back for some reason? Is he someone other than who he appears to be? After watching Statham play so many elite mercenary types, are we just projecting our expectations from other films onto H? The casting of Statham cleverly adds to the mystery.
The film unfolds in chapters. Each one circles back to the opening scene and adds to our understanding of that central event. The flashback construction of the film becomes a bit cumbersome, but withholding key information from the opening of the film proves to be an effective way to build the suspense. One person’s convoluted screenplay is another person’s clever narrative. The overall structure of the film worked for me.
Don’t let the presence of Jason Statham fool you. This is a cops and criminals with guns type of film. No martial arts are on display. There isn’t one hand-to-hand combat fight in the film. Gone is Statham, the kicking and punching hero. Instead, Wrath of Man gives us a brooding man of mystery until the mystery is slowly stripped away.
This film plays like a more subtle version of the 2018 heist thriller Den of Thieves. Both films take place in the world of armored cars and armed robbers. Both films feature frustrated former soldiers as their villains. But where Den of Thieves is big and bombastic with both its performances and its action, Wrath of Man is quieter. It has less heat if you’ll pardon the pun.
Wrath of Man may not be a crime classic, but it’s a cut way above the average VOD crime thrillers that hit streaming services every Friday. It has big ambitions, and it fulfills many of them. It gives me confidence that Guy Ritchie is still going to deliver his masterpiece one of these days. If you’re a fan of the crime genre, you don’t want to miss this one.
Wrath of Man is currently playing in theaters.