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Sunday, August 1, 2021

Wrath Of Man’ Review: An Overly Convoluted Actioner

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Arbitrary twists and turns only serve to make this otherwise enjoyable (and expectedly violent) revenge thriller more complicated and less compelling than it needs to be.

In what is easily the nastiest, meanest major studio theatrical release at least since Russell Crowe’s Unhinged kinda-sorta kicked off the Covid-era recovery (not really, but that’s a long story), MGM’s Wrath of Man is an unapologetically cruel action thriller. Billed as a “Jason Statham versus armored car robbers,” the grim revenge tale pits heartless thieves against ruthless criminals with little concern for audience sympathy, collateral damage or conventional morality. That’s not a criticism per-se, and some of the film’s twists and turns earn credit for going beyond the elevator pitch. However, some of those plot beats and character reveals result in over-complication which pushes the film further away from its core hook, until it’s just violence for the sake of violence with the audience acting either offended or as a mere passive observer.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Jason Statham’s steely-eyed killer has taken a job as a cash truck security guard as a way of tracking down the men who murdered his son months earlier in a botched robbery. The film’s taut and flavorful first-act establishes a specificity within the world of the cash truck company while climaxing with the aforementioned reveal. It does not make the mistake of treating the film’s core hook as a third-act plot twist, which also means that the trailers end up being surprisingly non-spoiler-y. Because, context-free action and violence offered up in the marketing notwithstanding, there’s a lot the previews don’t tell you about the film. For one thing, the aforementioned murder is less “wrong place/wrong time” and more Statham’s protagonist positioning himself as the world’s dumbest dad.

As we see right at the start of the second act, Patrick “H” Hill is not just a civilian with a knack for killing armed baddies but the head of a criminal organization with a loose connection to the plot-instigating robbery. Without going into details, Hill metaphorically drops his son off at a house fire and then acts righteously indignant when the kid gets smoke inhalation. The complication, which dominates the film’s second act, only serves to make the story less relatable and his vengeance almost laughable. Yes, the film calls him on his relatively responsibility, but the additional context (and the copious middle-of-the-film beats where he and his underlings search for the murderers) constitute a heaping helping of narrative padding as we wait for the film to come back to the point at which its first act concluded.

This second act also offers some time spent with the truck robbers; disaffected veterans of America’s post-9/11 foreign wars led by cast-to-type Jeffrey Donovan (who had far more fun as a rare good guy in Liam Neeson’s Honest Thief). It is initially interesting to watch these former soldiers justify their post-war malaise and reframe the language of combat to justify collateral damage, but this contextual tissue doesn’t add anything of value to the plot or the core character arcs. The film runs 117 minutes, and that middle 35 minutes either doesn’t impact the plot or makes the film less engrossing and almost laughably complicated for no overreaching value. The third act features a big robbery and a resulting action set piece where security guards are massacred like flies and “H” may or may not take his revenge.

Despite taking place within the world of a security truck company, this is one of those violent actioners where the merciless slaughter of security personal “doesn’t count” in terms of loss of life and tragedy. The positioning of our anti-hero as an actual villain allows for him (and the movie) to have its cake and eat it too, offering up a theoretical righting of a wrong even as lots and lots of other “wrongs” take place concurrently. If that’s an issue stay far away from Wrath of Man. For those who merely want surface level pleasures, the film is pretty much what it promises. It still feels like an odd duck, with Guy Ritchie directing the kind of brutal and macho action flick that Statham usually makes in between more “upscale” Guy Ritchie flicks.

Alas, the screenplay, by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies and based on Nicolas Boukhrief’s Cash Truck, spends an entire second act/middle portion overcomplicating the narrative in a way that makes the proceedings less engrossing and less compelling. Statham can do this in his sleep, so it’s to his credit that he doesn’t, while Holt McCallany and Eddie Marsan bring nuance and specificity to stock supporting players. As Statham’s solo/non-franchise actioners go, it’s not a patch on my three favorites (Safe, The Bank Job and Homefront), and one irony of the pandemic is that we’re getting movies that otherwise might have gone straight to VOD playing as IMAX-worthy theatrical releases. Like Unhinged before it, it’s the kind of movie that barely has a theatrical future now being sent to the big leagues to save the entire theatrical industry.   

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