In WRATH OF MAN, we find Jason Statham and Guy Ritchie re-united in a film about the imperative of family values and the dangers of boredom. The result is a bloody wonderland of moral relativity and of an honor system that has nothing to do with Testaments Old or New. While is doesn’t give Mr. Statham or Mr. Ritchie new ground to break, it doesn’t need to. We go to see Mr. Statham because his character, no matter what the story, is both relentless and indestructible once he has a mission. We go to see Mr. Ritchie’s films because of his sleek way with a camera, his deft way with black humor, and his stylish approach to graphic violence. It is the unreality that we enjoy, and in that neither disappoints.
The story unfolds in flashbacks that explain the present, and that also serves to give us the several perspectives at work as Patrick Hill (Statham) presents himself for employment at an armored truck service. We’ve already seen the recent tragedy that has created the job opening, in which one of its trucks was robbed and its employees within killed. Even without having seen the trailer, which gives away why Hill, dubbed H by his avuncular orientation officer, Bullet (Holt McCallany), we know there’s more than being a productive citizen that has drawn H here. Maybe it’s the way he scores the exact 70% on the skills test, the minimum needed to pass. Maybe it’s the way he doesn’t rise to the ribbing and condescension of his new co-workers as they display toxic masculinity at its more irritatingly jocular. But probably it’s because it’s a Jason Statham film, and that laconic attitude tinged with taciturn contempt can only mean one thing. Payback. Verbally taking down his new partner, the weaselly Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Harnett), can wait.
Conversations with unnamed characters take place with dialogue that is as mysterious as it is terse. Don’t worry, all will be explained in the fullness of time with some nifty narrative tricks, including showing the same action several times, but never from the same point of view. Who does what and why matters in this context, and the greater good, be it providing for a family or turning a blind eye to how criminals are given rough justice, has a claim while not precisely valid, is at least compelling. Relatively.
As H turns out to be a hero in the money protection game by single-handedly stopping a robbery by a six-man gang, his stock rises with co-workers, though much put-upon HR guy, Terry (Eddie Marsan), opines that they might have a psychopath on their hands. Fortunately, no one pays attention, leaving H to continue to keep the money safe, garner good publicity (and more business) for his company, and to continue his quest to find the man who killed his son in that hold-up that starts the film.
The motivations of almost everyone concerned is family, which makes for a piquant twist in a film that is so gloriously besotted with mayhem and casual, business-like approach to torture and death. Here, the trigger not being pulled is the surprise; the victim released a shock, making for a suspense as twisted as the motives of our protagonists. Even the villains of the piece, a ragtag group led by Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) who places too much faith in its most impulsive member Jan (Scott Eastwood), has complicated reasons for what it does. That makes for a different kind of suspense as tugs us in a direction we didn’t expect with a juxtaposition of motivations that have differences with uneasy distinctions.
Statham is, as always, Statham, and that is why we are here. His great gift is to make us believe that this slight, wiry man can actually dispatch six shooters without breaking a sweat, and that he has a rich enough inner emotional life to put his own life on the line while carving a swath of corpses in order to see his vengeance through. This is not craziness, it is carefully measured insanity, but insanity we root for because it gets the job done so decisively.
The flaw in WRATH OF MAN it is a third act that is far too in love with the climactic shootout, undercutting the giddy delight of the complicated caper planned down to the minute that forms the finale. Cutting back and forth between the gang going over the plan that anticipates everything with arts-and-crafts models, and the actual execution, the arresting visuals devolve into a sort of extraneous exposition of gunplay that should have been much tighter.
For a film that is meant to be a joyride, it succeeds admirably with its thugs, scoundrels, and solid family men doing what needs to be done at any given moment in time. At least from their points of view. Leave your moral compass at the door.