As theaters begin the arduous process of trying to bring audiences back on a regular basis after more than a year away, it’s imperative that studios deliver signature films that represent the best of what cinema can do in every genre.
Wrath of Man, the first film pairing action star Jason Statham with British auteur Guy Ritchie in over 15 years, is without question of that caliber.
Oozing with pitch black villainy, the heist drama is Ritchie’s best film in a decade and makes the most out of a cold-blooded Statham performance.
Based on the 2004 French film Le Convoyeur, Wrath of Man centers around a mysterious new employee known as H working at a cash truck company moving millions of dollars in and around Los Angeles. The less audiences know about Ritchie’s film before heading to theaters, the better as the immersive screenplay crafts a world of intrigue and violence that needs to unfold naturally.
It’s a heist thriller that’s not about the money although there’s a lot of it to be thrown around. Characters by and large view the cash they obsess over as a means to an end rather than riches and as a result, the chilling evil of Wrath of Man is relative on a sliding scale rather than having clear cut good guys and baddies.
Statham has made a career out of playing wry, charming characters who can beat the hell out of bad guys. But with Wrath of Man, he’s exceptional at delving into a more menacing, reserved persona as H, leaving audiences fully questioning his motivations as the nefarious plot unfurls.
To the audience, H becomes a vigilante antihero doing “things in two weeks that it would take (the government) 20 years” and Statham’s cerebral performance accentuates the grit and brutality of the most violent film in Ritchie’s filmography.
One of Ritchie’s strength as a filmmaker has always been getting the most from large ensemble casts and Wrath of Man showcases the strengths of each of its performers, big and small.
Whether it’s former heartthrob Josh Hartnett chewing the scenery as a cocky yet skittish driver named “Boy Sweat” Dave, Scott Eastwood as a mildly psychopathic former Special Forces operative or rapper Post Malone leading a crew of robbers, each primary cast member has their chance to shine.
No one takes advantage of their opportunity quite like Holt McCallany, a recognizable character actor given the space to feed off of Ritchie’s morally ambiguous script. His truck crew foreman Bullet is among the most complex, layered performances in the entire film and McCallany perfectly runs the gambit of psychological expressions from fear to cynicism to humor to calming strength.
There are a lot of moving parts in Wrath of Man with multiple plotlines and character arcs to be dealt with, but Ritchie expertly blends the narrative around one or two key events, showcasing them from different perspectives.
Crisp, distinct editing from James Herbert turns scenes on a dime with his cutting of Ritchie’s film, making events revisited later in Wrath of Man still feel fresh and unique.
Brooding visuals toned by dark, shadowy lowlights are a signature look of the film and cinematographer Alan Stewart expertly frames each shot to cast characters in just the right amount of texture to maintain a sharpness to the feature. A series of wide arcing, extended camera shots highlight outdoor locations to provide geographical context needed throughout the film and often help key audiences in to what might be happening next.
Composer Christopher Benstead’s deep, haunting score sets the tone from the opening moments and brilliantly incorporates sounds within the scene like squeaky hinges or pistols loading to fully integrate an ominous dread throughout. One chilling montage set to a piece of Benstead’s score melded with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” is especially effective at inspiring terror and dread.
An exceptionally bleak, brutal film, Wrath of Man relentlessly attacks each moment with stylized vigor and is the heart-stopping thriller certain to coax moviegoers back to the cinema.
While it may not resonate with everyone, as in true Guy Ritchie fashion, it’s a film certain to generate a cult following like Snatch or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with endless re-watchability for years to come.