Guy Ritchie is no Michael Mann. And when did he become so … predictable?
Wrath of Man, Ritchie’s adaptation of the 2004 French film Cash Truck from director Nicolas Boukhrief, is neither interesting nor fun. It’s a Heat rip-off, but not a gonzo one like Den of Thieves, which was anchored by the uncontainable charisma of Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, and the sneakily effective O’Shea Jackson Jr. Although ostensibly about a series of hits on a cash-truck service, Wrath of Man, as scripted by Richie and cowriters Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, isn’t really a heist movie at all.
This is more of a Death Wish homage by way of Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey, an ode to the ’70s “wounded guy, big gun” aesthetic. Maybe it would be sort of a throwback delight if practically everyone in this movie didn’t perceive acting as setting your face into a holding-back-a-fart scowl. Maybe the plot could draw you in if it weren’t so plainly obvious from the beginning where, exactly, this was going. Maybe if Ritchie let Statham, who was so perfectly used in his own film Snatch as a guy who is a toughie but also more than that, crack a smile, there would at least be some human interiority here. Alas. Wrath of Man is a tedious snooze, another one of Ritchie’s movies—after The Gentlemen—that mistakes homophobic banter and racist insults for character development.
You want any of Ritchie’s admittedly-engaging aesthetic style? You won’t find that here. What about a tangible sense of place? Nope. (I really wrote in my notes more than once, “Where the hell is this supposed to be?”) And I’m not sure how to phrase this correctly, but for a movie utterly defined by violence, Wrath of Man is also utterly disinterested in creative approaches. This isn’t like the John Wick franchise, which has a phenomenally high body count but always seems to treat guns, daggers, or other weapons as extensions of the human form—true tools that we wield in ferocious dances with our foes and fates.
Neither is it like, again, a Mann film, in which characters are aware of the brutish ugliness they’re capable of inflicting, but are also capable of love, melancholy, and regret. You know in Heat, when Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have that diner conversation about whether they can ever do anything else with their lives (“I don’t know how to do anything else”)? You felt that mixture of resolution and anguish, and the toll of all this violence. Statham’s H. never gets so much depth in Wrath of Man, not when he’s played so flatly. But I guess, to Statham’s credit, his performance matches the film in which he’s in: inert and incurious, without any kind of artistry or nuance. Wrath of Man is all body count, and its self-seriousness is exhausting. This isn’t Ritchie’s Heat; it’s his The Tax Collector.
The film adopts the nonlinear structure that Ritchie often likes to play with, beginning in the present, jumping back five months, then jumping forward again five months; shifting between three perspectives; and divided into various chapters, titled ominous (I guess?) phrases like “A Dark Spirit” and “Bad Animals, Bad.” After a pre-credits scene in which we’re inside an armored truck while it’s attacked, we meet H. as he applies to a job at that truck company, Fortico Security. He’s not one for small talk, actively rejecting the friendliness extended by coworker Bullet (Holt McCallany, hot but underserved) and sparring with immature, idiotic coworkers like Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, hot but underserved). Impressed upon him often during the hiring process is that the money the trucks are transporting isn’t their own, and they shouldn’t try to defend it—that’s what got the two Fortico employees killed during that pre-credits attack. H. seems to understand, and although he barely passes the shooting part of the application process, he gets hired.
Then, on a job, the crew is attacked. Bullet is taken hostage. Boy Sweat Dave dissolves into panic and wants to abandon him to protect the money. But H., cool and collected, takes charge, whips out his gun, and delivers a series of headshots to the would-be robbers. “Who is this fucking lunatic?” Boy Sweat Dave asks, and Wrath of Man eventually sketches in who H. is and what he wants by devoting about a third of the film to his backstory, and then another third of the film to villains played by, among others, Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, and Scott Eastwood. “Kill or be killed,” H. says of his actions, and yeah, OK, whatever.
When did I most check out of Wrath of Man? Maybe when I realized the dialogue would never get better than lines “Suck your own dick” and “Did you make poopoo?” Maybe when Andy Garcia shows up to say “Let the painter paint,” a blatantly aped line from Tony Scott’s Man on Fire. Maybe when the baddies have this whole argument about whether “Afghanis” (not the correct term!) are Arabs or not, which feels like Ritchie sardonically winking at the critics unimpressed by his direction of the Middle East-set Aladdin. Or maybe when the final set piece fails to build any tension at all because Ritchie chooses to cross cut between it and the baddies’ planning, meaning that the forward momentum of what we’re watching in the present is constantly interrupted by the past. “There’s nothing they can do to stop us,” one of those guys says of their big score. But if I could stop you from watching Wrath of Man, well, that would be a professional accomplishment.
Wrath of Man is playing in theaters as of May 7, 2021.
Image sources (in order of posting): Epk.tv/MGM, Epk.tv/MGM