It’s fair to say that anybody going into WRATH OF MAN expecting a ‘typical’ Guy Ritchie joint may be disappointed. Which is to say that it’s been years since his oeuvre could have the word ‘typical’ applied to it. From Doyle-inspired action to epic fantasy and Disney musicals, Ritchie has defied classification. Still, you’re on fairly safe ground if you reckon some geezer is going to get the jam knocked out of his donut by the end of this picture, innit?
Loosely based on the 2004 French film Cash Truck, Ritchie’s screenplay (co-written with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies) transplants the action to Los Angeles. Following the death of two cash truck drivers at the hands of an organised gang, Harry (Jason Statham) — dubbed “H” by his new boss Bullet (Holt McCallany) — is hired by the freshly militarised company. Seen as a dark horse by some, H’s downplayed skillset hints at a grander plan.
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Which is what the majority of this film spends its time doing. In between the punchy action sequences, following the mould of the modern heist genre, Ritchie’s film leaps back and forth through time with copious exposition. Punctuated by intriguing title cards (such as ‘Scorched Earth’ and ‘Bad Animals, Bad’) and giant FIVE MONTHS LATER text splashed across the screen, the non-linear construction gets a little tangled in its own conceit. There were moments when I wasn’t sure if I was THREE WEEKS LATER from the FIVE MONTHS EARLIER or we’d gone ahead in time.
Yet none of this scarcely matters when the set-piece action sequences — set to thumping bass-filled tracks (including a very effective use of Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’) — take over the screen. Or to paraphrase H, when the film just worries about putting its arsehole back in its arsehole. The tonally (and surprisingly) dark film is more sturm und drang than lock and stock, and this can at times feel oppressive, especially in the film’s chaotic final act.
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As the film continues to cut back and forth through time, about the only nod to Ritchie’s earlier work are the hyperlinked network of characters with names like Hollow Bob and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett). We never really get to know any of these cardboard cutout characters beyond Statham’s H. The problem is compounded with every time jump, as a new layer of exposition is added to the film that requires a new round of explanations from all and sundry. At its worst, the entire climactic action sequence — which is fairly intense in its own right — is constantly interrupted with flashbacks to the planning of the scenes we’re already watching.
Despite WRATH OF MAN’s surface trickery, all the moving parts basically coalesce into some dudes killing some other dudes. It’s an otherwise straightforward heist-cum-revenge picture with multiple shades from its many predecessors, from The Italian Job to the obvious comparisons this will get with Heat.