Wrath of Man: a Jason Statham movie directed by Guy Ritchie. Check. A revenge thriller wearing the clothes of a heist thriller: a savory treat-within-a-treat, like a bacon-wrapped sausage. Check, check. The movie is more or less a remake of the 2004 French film Cash Truck (Le Convoyeur), and its cast is a dreamy assortment dependably engaging character stalwarts (Eddie Marsan, Holt McCallany, Andy García, Jeffrey Donovan) with a few against-type additions (Josh Hartnett, Raúl Castillo, comedian Rob Delaney), a worthwhile Scott Eastwood — and, yeah, even a little Post Malone (playing “Robber #6,” so don’t get your hopes up about an extensive cameo). The checks pile on.
But Ritchie and Statham are the names that matter most — obviously. They’ve got the compatible swagger that makes the movie worth watching. Ritchie is a director whose style is so often mired in the disarmingly foulmouthed pleasure of meatheaded wit. Statham is like a human trash compactor, so good at encouraging B-movies to whittle themselves down to only the most necessary parts. Combine the two and you get swift, muscular and — perhaps best of all — coherent action. And you get a Ritchie movie that pairs him with that rare actor who benefits from saying less, not more. Better yet, Wrath of Man knows it’s best off letting everyone else do the talking. “That man’s overqualified for this game. He’s got history,” they say. “He’s a dark fucking spirit,” a “cold, cold cunt,” they say. And in tribute: “Let the painter paint.” In blood, clearly.
The plot? If we must. Statham, playing a guy named Patrick Hill — but better known as “H.” — starts a new job at the Los Angeles-based Fortico, a middle-man delivery service that specializes in transporting high-security valuables — huge sums from security vaults, marijuana dispensary stock, and the like. An obvious heist target, in other words — so there’s your heist movie. But it’s Statham, right? Mere heists are a little below his pay-grade, as a star; knowing this, the movie builds in a backlog of motivations, and it moves through them efficiently and, when necessary, only the most brutish care. Wrath of Man’s opening act satisfies for giving us a prolonged tour of fake-outs (surprise: H. isn’t who he says he is) and violent motivations, the build-up to what makes the movie a meaty, blood-pumping feat of revenge,
For all the anticipatory vengeance that Wrath of Man promises, for all the genuine thrills of its action and its actors, its intriguingly roundabout structure, its knife-sharp use of a backstory that doesn’t overplay its hand, Wrath of Man — so-titled for good reason — is never better than when building Statham’s character up, letting him muscle and tight-lip his way through exposition that almost doesn’t need to be spoken aloud and action sequences that are only more appetizing for leaving something to the imagination (until they don’t). One look at Statham in this movie — in most of his movies — makes the disclosures that he’s a divorcee with a dark past comically redundant. As is the idea that he’d ever be just another guy on the job. A movie like this, with Statham this far into his career, only works if we cut the pretense. This part Ritchie gets right.
And it gets a couple of the wise guys at Statham’s side right, too. You can’t let anyone who’s set up to hold court with Statham think they can draw too much attention from the guy — so any actor with the chops to do so in Wrath of Man is deployed wisely. We barely see Andy Garcia; he looms larger for it. Holt McCallany — another actor I’d watch in pretty much anything — gets more screen time, but is again played like more of a canny grace note: he’s the guy asking the right questions, the guy who can hide a lot beneath that implausibly chipper, collegial veneer he wields so deftly on shows like Mindhunter.
It’s the other stuff — the stuff that veers away from Statham, toward the cadre of Donovan, Eastwood, and the like — that doesn’t work quite as well, because, well, who cares? It’s not unnecessary; it’s just not as worthy of all the schematic rigmarole that the movie otherwise devotes to its star. You can’t leap from Statham trudging through dank corridors more menacing than a shadow, going on a cold-blooded kill-spree halfway through the movie, to a bunch of not-so-scary foes making plans, doing their thing, becoming the enemy. That’s probably to the point. Statham > everyone else. Got it. Then why the long detour? It enervates things a little, distracts from the pulp.
Wrath of Man is a good showing from Ritchie, nevertheless. After the likes of Aladdin — an artistic disaster for not letting Ritchie loose, no matter how funny it is that the world was really blessed by a Disney movie directed by Guy Ritchie — I wasn’t exactly worried, but the disappointment was merited. Wrath of Man is a nice antidote to that. There’s a funny thread within, a nice tension, between protocol and what makes most sense for survival. Surprise, surprise: protocol — even Disney’s — gets you nowhere. The movie seems to have internalized this idea down to its very bones, ripping the linear thread of its story out of order, with chapter breaks and months or weeks-long flashes forward and back, as if to say that the cleanest path to the movie’s core is a path shaped around its star.
That the movie falters when it deviates from this plan is only further proof of concept. It recovers when it sticks the landing: a satisfying, if predictable, gun show to crown things off, some nice betrayals, a bit of panic-faced heroism from Josh Hartnett, and, finally, a culminating kill scene that’s dazzlingly ironic, vengeful to the point of pettiness. That’s the good stuff. Statham is always worth watching. But it’s in its closing scenes that this particular vehicle, Wrath of Man, earns its keep.