Movie review: 'Wrath of Man' has Ritchie, Statham right back where we want them

ANGELS AND LIONS: Jason Statham, Darrell D'Silva, Cameron Jack, and Babs Olusanmokun in 'Wrath of Man.' United Artists/MGM/TNS

Guy Ritchie’s “Wrath of Man” has a proper opening credits sequence, with classical illustrations of angels, lions and other dramatic Biblical scenes juxtaposed over slow-motion images of anguished men, bass strings groaning relentlessly. It’s time for some heavy-duty masculine myth-making melodrama, a fable of men, guns, tragedy and revenge; a burly, entertaining entry into the “dudes rock” cinematic canon, as imagined by Ritchie in rare form.

Set among the world of armored truck robberies in Los Angeles, “Wrath of Man” feels a lot like Guy Ritchie’s version of “Heat,” or, more precisely, his take on the juiced-up “Heat” riff “Den of Thieves.” It’s a remake of the 2004 French film “Le Convoyeur” (“Cash Truck”) directed by Nicolas Boukhrief, which Ritchie adapted with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies. “Wrath of Man” also reunites Ritchie with star Jason Statham for the first time in 16 years (since 2005’s “Revolver”). When Ritchie burst onto the scene with 1998’s “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and 2000’s “Snatch,” Statham was integral to Ritchie’s tough, sneering style. One could say that the two made each other stars.

So “Wrath of Man” feels like a homecoming for director and star, and an evolution, too. With Statham in the lead, playing one of his classically taciturn and tactically lethal action heroes, Ritchie is as restrained and controlled as he’s been in years. Utilizing the core creative team of his past few films, including cinematographer Alan Stewart, editor James Herbert, and composer Christopher Benstead, every element works splendidly in concert. Perhaps Statham was the missing piece.

Statham plays H, the new guy at a Los Angeles-based armored truck company, Fortico, where the drivers have come to see themselves as prey for increasingly brazen predators, bands of highly trained thieves dressed like construction bandits or motorcycle gangs who stick up the trucks in broad daylight and have no qualms about murder.

The quiet H stands out among the jocular and colorfully-nicknamed drivers, who taunt each other with crass, sexually humiliating smack talk. “Unflappable” doesn’t even begin to describe his ability to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of mayhem, inspiring some to describe him as a “dark spirit.”

Statham has cornered the market on performances that are stoic and lethal, and that’s all Ritchie asks of him in “Wrath of Man,” surrounding him with a murderer’s row of beguiling character actors, allowing Statham to be the chillingly still eye of the storm. But Ritchie also allows the actor to mature a bit, to grow from a cocky young buck into a man carrying an unspoken burden, a silent pain that motivates his every move.

Chapter titles like “A Scorched Earth” and “Bad, Animals, Bad” lend a sense of heft and portent to Ritchie’s bloody modern legend, executed with a brawny, muscular élan. The plot is a puzzle box of twisting double-crossed timelines and loyalties, so to delve too far into the details would be to give too much away, and the film is far more engaging the less we know about the mysterious H and his mission. Suffice to say that there are more than a few armored truck robberies, and while the motivations of the thieves is perfunctory, the only motivation that matters is that of H, the pained and bloodthirsty hero. The brutish aesthetic of “Wrath of Man” wrestles us into submission, and though it’s not exactly enlightened, or enlightening, it doesn’t necessarily need to be.


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