Wrath of Man
2021, R, 118 min. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Harnett, Laz Alonzo, Niamh Algar, Scott Eastwood, Raúl Castillo, Eddie Marsan.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., May 14, 2021
At this point in his career, many may feel that they have Guy Ritchie figured out. But if Wrath of Man – his first collaboration with action star Jason Statham since 2005's Revolver – is any indication, Ritchie still possesses his fair share of surprises as a filmmaker. For someone who has spent his career proving that too much is just enough, Ritchie proves to be shockingly efficient when working in a minor key.
Fortico Security’s latest employee could very well be the agent of death. Patrick Hill (Statham) may come from an unspectacular background in the private security sector, but his partner (McCallany) soon learns that Hill is unafraid to kill anyone who stands between him and his job. It isn’t long before Hill earns a reputation on the streets, a reputation that can only protect Fortico Security for so long – especially when a team of ex-military operatives decide to put their unique skills to work in an all-out assault on Fortico and the money it protects.
While it might be accurate to describe Wrath of Man as a Jason Statham vehicle, Ritchie’s film does more to subvert Statham’s onscreen persona than reinforce it. The character of Patrick Hill is more movie monster than man. Who he was before – and why he chooses to work for Fortico – only serves to explain his methods, not the madness behind them. He’s an unstoppable force, glimpsed only in fragments and understood only through his single-minded drive for vengeance. Whereas a character like John Wick may kill for catharsis, Hill kills as a form of divine retribution.
And a man who destroys others to satisfy a cosmic imbalance is a marked departure from the killer-with-a-code persona Statham typically crafts onscreen. It also marks the perfect evolution of an actor stepping into middle-age. A 53-year-old Statham may move a step or two slower than the Statham who cut his action-star teeth on films like Crank and The Transporter, but the fallibility of Hill only serves to underline his sheer force of will. Statham has never been asked to do less onscreen; curiously, he may also never have accomplished more.
But he’s just one of many. Just as he has throughout his career, Ritchie populates Wrath of Man with a dynamic supporting cast, finding just the right characters for emerging talents (Castillo and Algar) and veteran performers (Donovan and McCallany) alike. When Ritchie is on his game, few directors share his knack for fleshing out a supporting cast, and the director’s penchant for interwoven timelines allows him to build sequences around each performer in turn.
Perhaps the most surprising and satisfying element of the film is the soundtrack. Christopher Benstead, who made his composer debut in Ritchie’s 2019 film The Gentlemen, has reversed decades of the director’s high-octane soundtracks. Gone are the standard assortment of electric guitars and college radio station hits; in their place is Benstead’s simple cello theme repeated throughout the film. Unsurprisingly, this stripped-down soundtrack serves as the perfect counterpoint for Ritchie’s direction, adding an element of the funereal to even the most visceral action sequence.
Wrath of Man may soon occupy the same rarified air as Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, another film anchored by an aging action star that promised revenge and delivered something more. If, as our original review of Carnahan's grizzly story claims, that film was an intelligent study of the will to live, then this is its omega, a soulless exploration of the will to destroy. Perhaps we’ve only scratched the surface of what Ritchie is capable of, even two-plus decades into an already acclaimed career.