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Wrath of Man
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by alejandroariera

"Vengeance is Mine"
4 stars

Guy Ritchie is one those directors that I am hot and cold about. Like many, I was blown away by his hyper clever, hyper violent feature debut “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998), even though I couldn’t make sense of at least 40% of the dialogue (it’s those damn cockney accents, you know). And then came “Snatch” (2000), which tried to be twice as clever and incomprehensible as his first feature (mumbling Brad Pitt in full Irish brogue included) and “Swept Away” (2002), his failed (and I am being nice here) remake of the Lina Wertmuller classic starring his then-companion Madonna. With just three films, Ritchie managed to jump the shark in an epic way. I pretty much skipped the work that followed until the release of the first of the two Sherlock Holmes movies he directed for Robert Downey, Jr. The less said about its take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s character the better, although I did like the second one: it was much closer to the spirit of the classic novels and stories, and it had in Jared Harris one of the best Moriarty’s to ever grace the bog and small screens. But then Ritchie decided to trample all over my childhood memories of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” by turning his remake into a damn origin story with no sense of what made the pairing of agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin so unique and charming and cool and fun. That was my last Guy Ritchie movie until today.

At one point developed by Joel Silver with Sandra Bullock attached to it to play the lead role, “Wrath of Man,” now co-written, produced and directed by Ritchie, is based on the 2004 French thriller “Le Convoyeur” (“Cash Truck”). Ritchie kept the core story intact (at least based on what I have read about the original film): a man is hired by an armoured truck company after it has been hit by a series of very violent robberies and soon becomes an asset for the firm; the man of course has his reasons for applying and taking on the job. That man is now named Patrick Hill and nicknamed H by his colleagues (“Like the bomb or Jesus H.”) and is played by Jason Statham in his first collaboration with Ritchie in 16 years, and the real reason why I wanted to see “Wrath of Man.” Statham is, in my opinion, the closest star we have right now to those stone-faced, tough guy action heroes of the 70s and 80s like Charles Bronson (the fact that Statham was cast in the remake of the Charles Bronson classic “The Mechanic” is no coincidence). Most of Statham’s films could comfortably sit alongside any of Bronson’s as a double feature. You go a movie starring Statham for one reason only: to watch him kick butt and take names with a snarl and a quick quip in that Derbyshire accent of his. But what makes “Wrath of Man” so interesting is how much screen time he actually has. His character may be a man out for revenge and Statham’s name may be above the film’s title but he is not always at the center of the film’s plot or story.

Divided in five chapters, the film starts with a violent assault on an armored truck shot which costs the lives of two guards and a civilian (whose identity is spoiled by the trailer) from inside the vehicle. Weeks later, H is hired by Fortico Securities, the agency for whom those two dead guards worked, after barely passing the driving and shooting tests. He now joins a company whose guards (male and the one sole female) are known by such cutesy nicknames as “Hollow Bob,” “Bullet” and “Boy Sweat Dave”: we are now in full Ritchie territory, misogynistic banter included. H soon proves that he has an essential set of skills on his first day on the job when the truck he is riding is assaulted by a gang (although not the same one that robbed that first truck). He instantaneously becomes a legend of sorts in the company.

“Wrath of Man” revisits that opening scene twice, once from the vantage point of its civilian victim and then from the perpetrators’ perspective. The story then begins to fold on itself, going back in time then forward again, introducing characters that will soon be part of a greater mosaic, their relationship to H never quite clear. It keeps us on our toes: who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, who’s on the right side of the law, is there a right side of the law. Is the man known as King (Andy García, whose now gravelly voice was made for films like this) a police official or a federal agent? What links him to H? And is H a criminal or a former intelligence operative? And why is the woman married to one of the perps providing H with information and fake documents? Ritchie also spends a good amount of time with these perps, a group of close-knit combat veterans who feel left behind and see in the string of robberies they have committed as payback. We are dumped knee deep into a murky world where past (undefined) actions have consequences, where men who have nothing left to lose go all the way in seeking retribution.

As in most of his films —or most heist films for that matter— Ritchie simultaneously cuts between the planning and execution, between the fantasy and the actual reality of things going belly up. Because that’s where “Wrath of Man” is headed towards the end: one grand, all stakes high, final heist that will put these men in H’s path. And you know that things will not end well, Christopher Benstead’s recurring dark, droning score having set the tone from the beginning. But even with its twisty structure, the storytelling is pretty straightforward for a Guy Ritchie film. The dialogue may be a bit risible at times but the entire cast, from García to Jeffrey Donovan as the leader of the heist gang, bring their “A” game to the proceedings, breathing life to characters that are pretty archetypical. And like in most Ritchie films, women are pushed to the sides — which makes you wonder what a Sandra Bullock-led version of this film might have looked like. Ritchie’s world is a boy’s world after all, one where they get to play with real guns and die.

“Wrath of Man” reminded me a lot of those old 1970s Charles Bronson actioners Dad took me to when I was a kid. It’s efficient, well-acted, well-paced…incredibly dark as well. And it delivers what it promises: Statham wreaking havoc on the lives of those people who did his character wrong. Statham as a cold, ruthless tactician, a dark angel, a man who may never be at peace with himself even when his thirst for revenge has been satisfied. Imagine that: a film by Guy Ritchie that I actually liked and all thanks to his old partner. And they have a new one coming out co-starring Aubrey Plaza? Color me curious!

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34347&reviewer=434
originally posted: 05/06/21 22:11:53
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  07-May-2021 (R)

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