Wrath of Man review: Jason Statham strikes again in Guy Ritchie's bland, brutal heist thriller
If it walks like an assassin and talks like an assassin, it's probably Jason Statham. There is a clarity of purpose to the actor's screen persona that's hard to knock: He comes, he squints, he kills. And director Guy Ritchie essentially helped invent that template when he cast the now 53-year-old Brit in their mutual 1998 breakout Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the two films, Snatch and Revolver, that quickly followed.
So it stands to reason that their fourth collaboration together, Wrath of Man (in theaters Friday), would represent some kind of cinematic apex, a clever honing of the brand. But reason is no friend to Man; neither, in any particular order, are plot, dialogue, or craft. If 2019's gangster caper The Gentlemen marked a return to form for Ritchie after the chaotic genre swerves of Aladdin, King Arthur, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., his latest is the bluntest kind of instrument, even for an action piece that self-consciously styles itself as a B movie: a raw-boned revenge fantasy forged in blood and bullets and the rolling fog of testosterone it wears like a body spray.
Statham stars as Patrick Hill, or just H (even vowels fear him, see) the newest employee at a Los Angeles security firm looking to beef up its staff after the recent deadly-force robbery of one its armored trucks. Wary of standing out too much, H slow-walks his fitness test, but we know a finely-honed killing machine when we see one: The next time aspiring bandits in balaclavas try to hit his convoy, he calmly annihilates them all — Post Malone, we hardly knew ye — with little more than a Glock and a cocked eyebrow.
That's thrilling news for the company's brash CEO (Catastrophe's Rob Delaney, clearly in his own movie) and of little apparent consequence to the LAPD; H is back on the job by the end of the day. But he has a higher purpose here: his beloved teenage son was a casualty of the same men who pulled off the first robbery, and his soul cannot rest until they too have seen the damage one wronged dad can do.
Statham, with his granite-block head and hardened stare, moves through it all like a land shark; there's something briskly compelling in the ruthless economy of his violence, and even sly glints of humor in his clipped, nearly affectless delivery. But it feels as if Ritchie, working from the 2004 French heist thriller Cash Truck, translated the script phonetically: the cast, including Josh Hartnett as a blustering fellow guard and Scott Eastwood as a pretty-boy villain with cold tinfoil where his heart should be, struggle to make their leaden lines come alive. (It also doesn't help that many of the supporting players are Europeans attempting to pass as American; the great British character actor Eddie Marsan, as a hapless supervisor, switches regional dialects so frequently he sometimes sounds like Tony Soprano and a Steel Magnolia within the same sentence).
Worse still, there's little of the swaggering visual style Ritchie made his name on: For all its casual brutality, there's a basic-cable blandness to his execution here that feels less stripped-down than merely cheap. The social and sexual politics of The Gentlemen were generally execrable, but at least it had flair; without that, Wrath is just another loose bag of lizard-brain thrills and wood-block dialogue: too ugly to be camp, too grimly familiar to feel new. Grade: C–