Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
WRATH OF MAN
Rated R, 118 minutes
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie takes his trademarked style of storytelling and, to varying degrees of success, applies it to the revenge-fueled, character-driven feature WRATH OF MAN, which is centered on a man with nothing to lose out for revenge after a tragedy occurs. Sounds badass, right? Eh. Instead of having the gravitas and grit of HEAT, a film Ritchie is clearly influenced by with this adaptation of Nicolas Boukhrief’s LE CONVOYEUR, this steely, at times constipated, actioner is more identifiable in the canon of meathead cinema as DEN OF THEIVES and SABOTAGE’s illegitimate love child.
Intensely focused, laconic loner Patrick Hill (Jason Statham) has reported for his first day on the job as a security guard for a private armored car service. The company is recovering from a recent, rather detrimental robbery of one of its trucks – one that left two of their employees and an innocent civilian dead. The firm’s paper-pushing boss Terry (Eddie Marsan) is looking to do everything by the book from here on out. Hill’s chilly, rigid demeanor makes him appear suitable for the gig, yet we can tell there’s a dangerous darkness within his calculated charade. He’s paired with veteran guard “Bullet” (Holt McCallany), who not only shows him the ropes, but also gives him a new nickname, “H.” Since this feature bears Ritchie’s signature in bold handwriting in almost every corner, most of H’s convivial cohorts have gangster-influenced nicknames, like “Hollow Bob” (Rocci Williams) and “Boy Sweat Dave” (Josh Hartnett). All except tough-as-nails Dana (Niamh Algar), whose brawling bravado is bigger than most of her male colleagues.
However, it’s not long until H’s carefully constructed façade comes crumbling down. An attempted heist during a routine route forces him to go rogue, breaking corporate protocols, plowing down a slew of criminals. For a guy who scored minimal percentages on his physical aptitude testing as to not draw any attention, folks start to question H’s background. The federal authorities, led by FBI Agent King (Andy Garcia), are suspicious of H’s skills and label him a suspect. Same goes for H’s coworkers, who also question his erratic behavior. As well they should. Turns out, H is actually a ruthless crime boss, undercover on a vengeful mission, hunting down the killers who slayed his son in that robbery gone awry.
Ritchie and co-writers Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson section off their narrative into different chapters, demarcated by title cards reading ominous harbingers like “A Dark Spirit,” “Scorched Earth,” “Bad Animals, Bad,” and “Liver, Lungs, Spleen & Heart.” Though they’re not wholly unnecessary, they’re there to represent either flashbacks, which border on convoluted, or shifts in the character perspectives, which also tend pad already heavy plotlines. Balancing the three different dens of thieves brings mixed results. A few details become muddled by film’s end, toggling between the law-abiding armored car gang, H’s crew of menacing mobsters and the calamitous crew of spurned ex-elite soldiers led by Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) and loose cannon Jan (Scott Eastwood). There’s also a small handful of hokey dialogue (“Just you worry about putting your asshole back in your asshole and leave this to me”) and shockingly wooden delivery (as featured in the cold open showing the heist gone wrong).
Yet, despite not providing clarity on a few logical particulars, it’s too transparent in other areas. When the inevitable betrayals occur and the dominos fall, so does our interest. We’re three steps ahead of the plot twists, red herrings and character motivated deceptions almost every step of the way. Plus, Statham slips away for a noticeable chunk of the action, somehow managing to get lost in the melee of the climactic third act. While these sequences are performed by capable actors, the material doesn’t afford them shining, worthy moments during his absence.
Distracting from some of the narrative’s flaws, Ritchie and company find strength calibrating and maintaining the bleak, dour tone. Aesthetic choices found in Martyn John’s production design, Stephanie Collie’s costume designs, and Alan Stewart’s cinematography, echo the picture’s themes. Each acts as a way to visually contextualize both the narrative’s headier concepts and the tortured protagonist’s psyche. H has been left bruised and psychologically pummeled by the trauma incurred upon the death of his son. Assigning a color palette evocative of a bruise rings true. Ritchie keeps the proceeding color story with varying shadings of blues, blacks and yellows, speaking to the differing shadings found in the dynamic humanity of these characters, consistent with his lead character’s POV, even in the chapters that aren’t dominated by H.
WRATH OF MAN opens in theaters on May 7.