Just before the pandemic hit, one of the freshest surprises to hits screens in some time was Guy Ritchie’s return to smaller scale filmmaking with the highly clever The Gentlemen. Ritchie’s much-needed return to the world of “tuff guys” and low-level crime proved to ignite the fire within Ritchie to return to the style of films that initially put him on the map with hits such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. While Wrath of Man takes a much different approach in tone and crime than The Gentlemen, it signifies an even greater fire roaring within the belly of one of 21st century’s most idiosyncratic auteurs.
Reuniting with his Lock, Stock and Snatch star Jason Statham, we follow “H”, a mysterious new recruit for a cash track company responsible for moving millions of dollars in and out of Los Angeles. The company is filled with larger-than-life hardasses that only Ritchie — along with co-writers Ivan Atkinson & Marn Davies — knows how to write. Veteran actor Holt McCallany is the aptly named “Bullet”, the captain figure of the company who shepherds H into the lifestyle. Josh Harnett makes a memorable mark as “Boy Sweat Dave” as does Niamh Algar (look for her terrific star performance in Censor, coming later this year) as “Dana”, the sole female of the company — something “Wrath” could’ve benefitted more of. Jeffrey Donovan, Eddie Marsan, Laz Alonso, Andy Garcia and a particularly nasty turn from Scott Eastwood, showcasing potential character actor chops, all round out the film with finely tuned performances that create quite the ensemble of characters. Even rapper Post Malone makes a cameo as a robber who gets the unfortunate pleasure of meeting the other side of Statham’s bullet. When H effortlessly disbands a group of thugs attempting to rob his truck, questions about his past life and motivations are raised, and the film slowly but surely begins unravel.
At the end of the day, this is Statham’s vehicle to drive and he gives some of his best dramatic work here. A more nuanced and potent role than the opening reel may suggest, the layers of Statham’s H is one of the many pleasures Ritchie has in store for the remainder of Wrath of Man. Statham’s impeccable physicality is nothing new, but the weight and melancholy that lingers within his eyes helps make this character one of the actors very best.
Ritchie may be channeling the works of Tony Scott and Michael Mann, but this a wholly original endeavor. Working alongside frequent collaborator in editor James Herbert, Wrath of Man is methodically paced and edited with razor-sharp precision. Told over five chapters that move forward and backwards in time, this is one of Ritchie’s more ambitious narrative structures. Ritchie is reaching outside of his comfort zone in many aspects, making the journey even more thrilling when he sidesteps a direction you would normally expect the filmmaker to take. While certain twists won’t come as a surprise, this is an unpredictable ride, and a largely unconventional one at that.
Ritchie navigates through a tricky tonal balance, one that fits his usual slick banter and bursts of dark humor, while maintaining a sobering, dour look into the pursuit of vengeance and the *ahem* wrath that comes with it. The action sequences are hard-hitting and filled with moments of white-knuckle tension, but the more reserved mono y mono confrontations with Statham are just as thrilling.
Wrath of Man finds Guy Ritchie at the height of his filmmaking powers. It’s rare to see a filmmaker operating on all cylinders while furthering their narrative talents, and make it all seem effortless. The command Ritchie has over every frame down to the smallest nuances is a thrilling sight to behold. You’ll be hard pressed to find many films this breathtaking on a studio level all year.