REVIEW: Wrath of Man (2021)

Quiet loner Patrick Hill (Jason Statham) takes up a job as a security guard riding armoured trucks. The first time his truck is attacked by armed robbers, Hill unexpectedly shoots and kills all assailants, without suffering so much as a scratch. The second time, the robbers take one look at his face and flee the scene.

Peeling away the back story of this mysterious situation forms the core of Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man, a particularly grim and moody heist thriller that stands in pretty sharp contrast to Ritchie’s body of work. His other films are often violent, certainly, but they come paired with a distinctive London patois and a strong sense of both comedy and the absurd. Wrath of Man is bleak, miserable, and largely devoid of humour. I applaud any artist willing to step out of their comfort zone, but in this case by shifting gears to such a dark and unpleasant mode Ritchie abandons those specific elements that make his best films so enjoyable. The best of intentions do not stop this movie from feeling like a chore to watch.

A major problem is structural. Telling Ritchie’s story (he co-wrote the film with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies) requires introducing one set of characters only to jump back in time several months to introduce a second set of characters, who are then abandoned in favour of a third. Miss one softly-spoken line of dialogue and the entire film stops making sense. The non-linear narrative complicates an otherwise shockingly simple storyline; in the end one wonders why that second group of characters was introduced at all.

The constant grimness is exacerbated by Chris Benstead’s droning, maudlin score that underwrites each miserable conversation and every dour action sequence. It also robs star Jason Statham of any real ability to make an impact. Nobody seems enabled to properly emote: not Statham, not co-stars Holt McCallany and Darrell D’Silva, and not Andy Garcia – who appears in a role so slight one assumes he shot it in about three days.

The film’s climax is long, and such a low-key affair that it soon becomes unwelcome. There is a lot of gun violence, and a fair amount of blood, but little to no tension. A pall of inevitability robs it of suspense. One can guess going in what will happen, who will live, and who will die.

I remain a keen fan of Guy Ritchie through his other films. His 2000 comedy thriller Snatch is a bona-fide movie classic. His treatment of Arthur Conan Doyle in his two Sherlock Holmes films is distinctive and superbly entertaining. I am even a staunch defender of his widely maligned fantasy King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. His 2019 film The Gentlemen, starring Matthew McConaughey, demonstrated that his dialogue style translated just as well to American characters as it did to English. Wrath of Man is simply a misfire. It is a miserable time for everyone: the characters, the actors, and the audience as well.

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