I open this review with a confession: I’m a big dumb idiot who loves Jason Statham movies. Statham’s run of low-rent, borderline DTV action films between 2005 and 2013 or so lined up perfectly with my high school and college years, and I didn’t miss a single one of his films in theaters if I could help it — with the exception of his Dungeon Siege film directed by noted hack and likely criminal Uwe Boll. I remember spending the entire Monday after Crank came out talking to friends at school about how awesome it was. I’ve watched Blitz, a film that myself and five other people remember existing, probably ten times. I saw Parker on opening night with my college roommate, both of us spending the entire day leading up to our showing with extreme anticipation. Statham is so woven into the fabric of my brain that I almost considered seeing a Fast and Furious movie in theaters because he was in it.1
This is all to say that I was already firmly in the bag for Wrath of Man, Statham’s reunion with writer/director Guy Ritchie — another filmmaker I have an affinity for because I’m a bit of a meathead. Ritchie and Statham got their start together with the one-two punch of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, both of which are great films that hold up better than most of the wannabe-Tarantino films of that late 90s/early 00s era.2 Ritchie has since gone on to be a blockbuster guy — with mixed success — who occasionally dabbles in the types of stylistic crime films that he made his name making, while Statham became the action icon I described above. The return of their collaboration — they will be making another film, Five Eyes, after this one — is an exciting prospect — especially since Wrath of Man is an overwhelmingly satisfying experience.
Statham stars as “H”, a security guard for armored trucks. We’re introduced to him during his hiring, with next to no information about his background. The company hires him as they need replacements for two guards who were killed during a robbery months prior to the events of the film, cleverly depicted via a fixed-camera single shot cold-open. “H” barely passes his training exams and seems innocuous to the rest of the company, save for his cold demeanor and lack of people skills. That changes when a group of criminals attempt to break into his truck and he single handedly kills every thief with superhuman precision. Ritchie then uses a clever non-linear narrative structure to introduce us to the world of Statham’s “H,” who he really is and why he’s a singularly focused killing machine working behind the wheel of a Brink’s truck.
As is probably obvious by the setup and the title of the film, Wrath of Man is a straight-up revenge film. Statham is out to get back at people who have wronged him, and it’s played completely sincerely. This isn’t the chatty, sly, piss-taking version of Statham we’ve seen a dozen times before. He’s steely-eyed, emotionally damaged and the closest he comes to dropping one-liners are the few times he deathly-seriously tells off the people he suspects are shady.3
Statham is joined by an ensemble of character actors that are absolutely ball for what Ritchie’s film is going for. The aforementioned Hartnett wonderfully plays a wannabe badass guard who immediately gets on the nerves of “H.” Holt McCallany is a blast as the cheery, fun-loving head of the security team. Niamh Algar — a star in the making — stands out as the cliché, but effective, badass-woman-among-men role. It’s a Guy Ritchie film, so of course Eddie Marsan is here, playing the nervous security depot manager. Plus you have Jeffrey Donovan, Rob Delaney and Andy Garcia here for good measure. Ritchie even manages to bring in Scott Eastwood and make him a compelling screen presence as a complete shitheel — likely helped by the fact that he’s playing a villain in the type of film that would have starred his dad thirty years ago.
The most surprisingly gripping aspect of the film is how stripped down the action is. In the era where western action films either live in a playground of massive scale CGI spectacle, quick-cutting hand-to-hand combat or intricately choreographed gunplay, Wrath of Man goes for a far more simple approach. The first action sequence where Statham guns down a group of petty criminals is so smoothly executed with minimal fuss that it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s well executed, staged, framed and choreographed, focusing the action on the “oh my god this guy is basically a Terminator” simplicity rather than on making the fighting a thrilling, prolonged spectacle. The film’s final third is a multi-POV heist that recalls, while obviously not reaching the highs of, something straight out of Michael Mann’s Heat.
Wrath of Man has plenty of flaws: the team of bad guys are, with a few exceptions, given minimal characterization or personality, the film sets up character arcs for side characters that don’t really materialize, and there’s a stretch of backstory for “H” that kinda drags on for too long. Those flaws are heavily outweighed by the fact that this is a solid film that knows what it is and delivers exactly that. It reminded me a lot of the recent Gerard Butler film Den of Thieves, a similar film that set its sights on being a modern version of a classic 90s action-crime-drama. This one is slightly less Monster Energy-fueled and has a bit more prestige to its name, but it fits into that same mold and would make for a great double feature.