We’re all over-qualified for this game. And we all have a history.
Fans of Guy Ritchie that wore out Lock Stock and Snatch during the early Aughts will find themselves hard-pressed to take the opening act of Wrath of Man seriously. It’s as though he and co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies are trying to re-capture the quick-paced slang that made the dialogue in those films so uniquely fun and of the moment despite being two decades removed in age and culture. Because while talking the talk as a thirty-year old filmmaker is one thing, it’s another to pretend you still can at fifty … in a foreign country. Bullet (Holt McCallany) introducing H (Jason Statham) to the eccentric band of misogynistic fools he’ll soon call co-workers therefore plays like a skit written by comedians who’ve never heard Americans speak.
So here I am cringing at the absurdity rather than laughing with the characters providing it despite having just watched an intriguingly shot and obtuse prologue full of violence and confusion. That opening is effectively drawn with two armored truck security guards talking about heading home to watch “the game” as a group of men in construction uniforms pull automatic weapons and kill them off-screen. Rather than see the carnage, we’re stuck inside the truck with our focus on a masked man holding a walkie-talkie as gunshots he wasn’t expecting fire behind him. Are we rooting for these robbers? Or are we lamenting the loss of those guards? We remain uncertain even after H arrives on-screen to interview for the job of replacing the deceased latter.
To therefore find myself in an eye-roll inducing open mic night afterwards is hardly what I was expecting or what the tone demands. But it’s Ritchie. He loves infusing his back-alley crime sprees with humor—he’s just usually smarter with its deployment. What’s more perplexing, however, is that he never really returns to that unbridled, try-hard desire to make us laugh. From that moment on, Wrath of Man settles into the drama it needs to be with a stoic mystery man at its center who’s willing to kill with impunity on a mission we’ve yet to fully understand. The comedy becomes a punctuation mark that leans into the juxtaposition to which everyone is keenly aware: H isn’t who he seems. And nobody knows if that’s good or bad.
That ultimately means that this isn’t your usual Ritchie film despite appearances at the start. It may be overly convoluted in its timelines and flashbacks to keep us on our toes until the last possible second as far as who H is and what he’s trying to accomplish, but it does so with open eyes towards the narrative impact instead of the potential punchlines. Because once we know what this revenge quest entails, everyone buckles up. Boy Sweat (Josh Hartnett) stops being an obnoxious douchebag in order to discover an internal desire to find courage. Dana (Niamh Algar) stops being the background flirt objectifying H in order to become one more suspect where an ‘inside man’ on that opening robbery is concerned. Cautious skepticism replaces the idiotic stereotypes.
Because let’s face it: they’re inconsequential. Ritchie and company pretend the opposite so that we can be “entertained” upon meeting H, but they’re just pawns caught in his way or unwittingly at his disposal. It’s crucial then that we discover why they’re expendable. Why is their world simply H’s current playground and not something we should dig deeper into? The answer comes at the end of a legitimately funny, crosscut exchange (thanks to Eddie Marsan‘s delivery) and the real battleground is revealed soon after with a shift in focus towards a retired squadron of military operatives led by Jeffrey Donovan‘s Sarge. Will you remain seated long enough to wade through that hollow flash to finally get the exposition necessary for the second hour to work? I’m not so sure.
I’d suggest you do, though, because I do think Ritchie sticks the landing here with a rousingly brutal climactic exchange that mixes a high body count with precision heist planning. What Sarge’s team (comprised of Scott Eastwood, Deobia Oparei, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, and Chris Reilly) does and why they do it could be its own film. You’ve probably seen that film since it’s a popular ex-military, anti-hero conceit where you champion the broken men trying to survive a country that forgot them. The time we spend with them while H is sidelined from the plot isn’t wasted because their team is the only other necessary piece to the whole. And besides one very important detail, H might have even helped them. The high-concept stuff is thus color.
That’s extremely compelling to me. H and Sarge are ostensibly on two disparate trajectories despite their inevitable collision—their lives connected by fate. Ritchie writes a ton of twists and turns that are simultaneously exposition dumps and false doors (I haven’t seen Cash Truck to know which parts were cribbed and which are original), but the constant dead-ends actually help matters because they build the mystique that neither H nor Sarge (et al.) will quit. This thing is going to find itself with one man standing or none at all and Ritchie eventually gives in to letting that be the case with unceremonious bloodshed taking the spotlight from comic distractions. Whether the growing pains getting there could have been avoided or not, the final act is worth it.
 Cameron Jack as Brendan, Darrell D’Silva as Mike, Jason Statham as H, and Babs Olusanmokun as Moggy in director Guy Ritchie’s WRATH OF MAN, A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.
 Jason Statham stars as H and Josh Hartnett stars as Boy Sweat Dave in director Guy Ritchie’s WRATH OF MAN, A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.
 Raúl Castillo as Sam, Deobia Oparei as Brad, Jeffrey Donovan as Jackson, Chris Reilly as Tom, Laz Alonso as Carlos, and Scott Eastwood as Jan in director Guy Ritchie’s WRATH OF MAN, A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.