Movies: Wrath Of Man

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-01-29 07:00:00-05:00 No comments

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There's a joke that most any Jason Statham movie can be summarized as "Jason Statham Drives A Car And Kills People." Statham's vehicle in Wrath Of Man is a cash truck, and the rest of the formula applies too, multiple times over, but the movie as a whole is miles better than a meme-description like that can encompass. It's closest in spirit to the bleak noirs of the 1970s — Get Carter, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle — where the "good" guys are only slightly less terrible than the competition, and where everyone is staring down from the edge of the same abyss.

Wrath Of Man opens with a cash transportation truck being hit by a professional gang of thieves. They don't just steal the money; they kill a few people too, and we get the ugly impression none of that murder was necessary. Some months later, Statham's character — known chiefly as "H" — applies for a job at the same transport company. His supervisor, Bullet (the name is only not ridiculous because he does look the part) takes a shine to this taciturn British fellow right away, even if his driving and firearms skills are only okay.

"H"'s new job.

H is sandbagging. We find that out in short order when their truck gets heisted one day, and his tactic is to stage a slight diversion, then simply walk out of the truck and shoot their assailants dead. Someone this good clearly has a history, and even if he won't talk about it, his supervisors and co-workers are only too thrilled to have someone like that on their side instead of ... oh, you know, robbing cash trucks.

We do not need to be told H has an agenda, that he has come to this company because of the killing some months earlier. What we don't know are the details, and the way those details are unfolded, filled in, and contrasted becomes the meat of the film. Maybe H is doing this to loot the trucks from the inside, but the movie torpedoes that theory in a scene where he sleeps with a co-worker, then puts a gun to her and solemnly tells her to speak the truth about the box full of cash he found in her apartment. He could take the money for himself, but the truth is more important. When another of the trucks he's driving gets hit again, and this time his assailants just take one look at him and run, we wonder why. The movie lets us wonder, then takes its time proving us wrong.

Occupational hazards.

Ruining further details about Wrath Of Man would be, well, criminal; I will dance as best I can around them. The encounter with the second hit team spurs a flashback, one that fills in another side of all the details about the attack at the start of the film. H was involved, although not in the way we might originally surmise, and what happened that day spurred him to tunnel into the criminal underground of Los Angeles and look for answers — deep enough that he was compelled to throw away his old life and begin a new one. The exact details of how this unfolds, again, are the pleasure here: the way the movie lets us build up one set of expectations about things, then tears them down and replaces them with something else.

All of this is placed on a collision course with — again, in ways I won't describe outright, and which the movie enjoys surprising us with — another team of professional thieves. They're a band-of-brothers ex-military unit, sick of being rent-a-cops and stay-at-home dads, and they've concocted a series of heists, each topping the last in its daring-do and payoffs. Much of the middle section of the film is taken up with them, but the movie's back-and-forth construction doesn't make this feel like an obstacle or a distraction from H's storyline. It contrasts both with that side of the goings-on, and with itself internally, as we see some of the men find the temptation of the piles of cash in front of them harder to put out of mind than the teamwork needed to get it. We worry most about Jan (a suitably smug Scott Eastwood): he's cocky and greedy, but we also sense those things took the wheel in him after he goes beyond a certain point to protect his comrades.

The real reason for the mission.

I've enjoyed Guy Ritchie's work most when it wasn't trying too hard. Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch; and yes, his Sherlock Holmes were all fun. Revolver, not so much: that movie tried to pull the rug out from under the audience with its narrative juggling, but ended up ripping up the floorboards under its own feet instead. Wrath Of Man's nonlinear structure is another head game, but a more coherent and disciplined one, and with far more payoff. I know nothing about the French movie it was remade from (Le Conveyeur), but this version does not feel like they dismantled and reassembled the original albeit with pieces left on the floor.

Statham's range as an actor is something of a meme unto itself: not a great one, but entirely appropriate in certain roles. He was the best thing in the meretricious Crank, and his flavor of hard-boiled on legs was a great complement to the Fast & Furious franchise. Here, he lets the no-nonsense mask slip when it needs to, as when he comes across some underground nastiness that wasn't part of his quest but which he can't let pass unnoticed, and in that final scene when he comes at long last for his literal pound of flesh.

Closing a circle.

Tags: Guy Ritchie Jason Statham movies review