My outstanding fatwa against Guy Ritchie remains intact. My brief respite from disregarding his output was put on hold last year when I watched The Gentlemen and loved it. Then I watched Wrath of Man and my interest slowly faded…
I should qualify that statement. Wrath of Man isn’t a terrible film. It’s a bog-standard Jason Statham action movie shot on a mid-tier budget in a series of Los Angeles backlots. Sadly, it’s not even notable in that regard. Statham has stared in half a dozen films MUCH better than this.
It’s not as dramatically functional as Transporter and it’s not nearly as anarchic as Crank. It’s not as bizarrely soulful and contemplative as Redemption nor as earnest and unpolished as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Its certainly not as self-justifyingly fun as Furious 7. It’s not as unfiltered and insane as Revolver or goofy as Mechanic Resurrection. Heck, it doesn’t justify itself with the same narrative chops that made Statham’s previous pairing with Ritchie in Snatch worthwhile.
Wrath of Man hardly compares with any of these older Statham films. It’s maybe a cut above the average straight-to-video action movie in terms of it’s scale and effort but it doesn’t amount to much beyond saying it’s better than something average like Parker or The Bank Job. At its best, it’s inoffensive. It’s only nominally interesting because of its bizarrely ambitious story structure. For some reason, the story is broken up into four separate acts with they’re own characters, timelines and themes which are all tied back in some way to an opening prologue.
The story starts with a man named Patrick Hill. He’s an unnaturally calm and reserved adult man who approaches an armed truck/security company to work as a security guard. As it turns out, he has a preternatural skill for the job. When a team of criminals led by Post Malone attempt to steal their money, he singlehandedly kills all of the attackers. Because of this, he starts raising eyebrows at his new job. His bosses love how effective he is but his teammates suspect that there’s something more going on with him.
As it turns out, there is. I don’t want to spoil what that ultimately is but we do find out not long into the film that he has an outstanding grievance he’s trying to resolve by working at the company, that he has strange connections, that the criminal underworld fears him and that there is a scheme afoot that will eventually force him to unleash his incredible fighting abilities in a blaze of glory.
Alas, the path to this final story conclusion is rather tedious. Wrath of Man is a particularly inelegantly produced film for as much money and star power is on display. It’s characters are weirdly undermotivated and the story it sets up doesn’t feel earned by the end of the story. There’s no ultimate catharsis or sense of relief.
A movie like this doesn’t need to be deep or complex but it can’t afford to lack a proper structure. Movies like Mission Impossible Fallout and John Wick are both highly derivative works but there isn’t a moment in either film when you don’t understand the motivations and emotional consequences of every moment of the story. They’re tense. You understand who wants what, why and how those dynamics will payoff when these characters reach an impasse. We feel tense because we share John Wick’s desire to avenge that dog too!
Wrath of Man isn’t tense, it’s begrudged. It has one consistent emotional through line and it rides it until the film’s mostly predictable ending plays out. Then the movie just collapses and ends on a note of emptiness. It’s trying to be clever and complex but it lacks the emotional identification with Patrick Hill that makes an action hero engaging. As a result, the film mostly ends up being empty gun-fights, robberies and showboating. Statham looks and acts cool as always but there’s nothing to make this character different than his other characters.
We may UNDERSTAND why he wants revenge but we don’t FEEL it and the movie suffers for this basic lack of identification. Without that, the film doesn’t exist to be much more than a TNT rerun to fill hours to boredom.