Jason Statham has had a long and varied career as an actor. If you close your eyes though and picture a “Jason Statham” movie, I would hazard a guess that the mental image that is conjured up is one of two possible archetypes from his filmography: one the “action hero”, stoic and invincible, the other the “charming hoodlum” funny and quick-witted with just a bit of grime under his fingernails. Both are capable but in very different ways. These two sides of Statham have never really coexisted in the same film. They feel pulled from two different eras of his performing life- a divide between the days of him as a “character actor” and as a “movie star.” With his latest film, WRATH OF MAN, those two aspects are fully represented under the guidance of the filmmaker who gave him his first big break, writer/director Guy Ritchie (THE GENTLEMEN).
WRATH OF MAN finds Statham in the role of “Patrick Hill”- a mysterious new recruit at an armored car cash transport service who is secretly using the position to hunt down the thieves who murdered his son during a heist gone wrong months earlier. The premise is taken from a 2004 French film, LE CONVOYUER, and filtered through Ritchie’s love of dense, character-heavy scripting to create a story that is uniquely suited for the pair. Statham reuniting with the man who helmed two of his funniest projects for a character-filled remake of a French film about thieves might lead one to believe that this was going to be a return to the sensibilities of something like those early collaborations between the two men but WRATH OF MAN is largely devoid of the roguish humor that defined those movies. It has the twisting plot and clever yet darkly awkward coincidences of something like a SNATCH or LOCK, STOCK, & TWO SMOKING BARRELS but here when the characters stumble into each other it leads to confrontations that feel like if the violence from HEAT or DEN OF THIEVES was reinterpreted with the bleak and brutal sensibilities of a “Grand Guignol.” The result is that WRATH OF MAN feels like someone took the characters from a light, twisty caper film and then inserted them into the meat grinder of a modern bullet-riddled action picture and at the heart of that violent maelstrom is Statham’s singular presence.
Statham’s Patrick Hill begins the film as an enigma and these early moments deliver more what an audience would likely expect for a collaboration with Guy Ritchie- Statham banters with his colleagues and gets to show them how calm and capable he is under pressure, sometimes playfully at their expense, but as the story unfolds and you learn more about him and his mission of vengeance, it becomes clear how WRATH OF MAN is toying with the perceptions of who Jason Statham is an actor. The banter, and humanity, that he exhibits in the early parts of the story melt away and his character is gradually reframed as an almost pure destructive force, seemingly unstoppable and uncaring of anything but his simple goal of revenge. It uses the audience’s familiarity with Statham’s image as an untouchable action star by taking the typical heroic traits of determination and resilience seen in those roles and presenting them as much more monstrous here because when the audience witnesses them, it’s through the viewpoint of the “normal” characters in the film. These people who were plucked from a light caper film aren’t prepared for “The Transporter as Grim Reaper” but that idea and the bloody carnage it entails are exactly what WRATH OF MAN is most interested in.
Ritchie counterbalances the dark and labyrinth nature of the film with what is likely the strongest directing of his career. Every scene has beautiful shot compositions and a clear sense of geography which is vital in a film so concerned with violence and gunplay. The film also never drags despite its dense plotting and numerous characters. The only thing that holds WRATH OF MAN back from being one of the strongest films of the year so far is the fact that the dialogue in the first quarter of the film feels stilted and unnatural. Despite all the great character actors (and there are a lot) in the film, it never quite clicks. It’s as if Ritchie had trouble transferring the snappy dialogue of his early, very British films into a contemporary American setting. Of course, Jason Statham has no issues making it work and that feels fitting for a film that is so clearly intended to showcase his strengths as a performer.
WRATH OF MAN won’t be for everyone. It’s a brutal and often cold film but for those who relish stories of bad men doing what they do best against even worse people then this is one to look forward to. It’s also an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys Jason Statham’s work as a performer. Here, he shows exactly why he went from being a charming character actor to one of action filmmaking’s top leads all in one tour de force performance. (3.5/5)