Review: ‘Wrath of Man’ (an ensemble’s tale)

Seventy-percent too mysterious for its own good.

A few months after a bloody armored car heist, a new employee named H (Jason Statham) begins making a name for himself as a go-getter, improving the outlook of the tarnished cash truck company still being targeted. At the same time, a former military crew led by a man named Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) is planning an all-or-nothing score to ensure he and his men never have to work crap jobs again. It’s not a mystery these opposing forces are on a collision course; the mystery is what set them on that course to begin with… and, of course, who will survive their final encounter.

Director Guy Ritchie enjoys juggling ensemble casts, big actors, and playing in the underworld of fictional criminals. While much of his storytelling can be violent in nature, there’s often enough good humor and interesting characters to offset the hair triggers and Mexican standoffs… whenever he’s not dipping his toes in family friendly fare such as Disney’s live-action Aladdin. Still, bad guys vs. bad guys seems to be his bread and butter, painted in a shades-of-gray canvas and using a body count to keep score. His latest film is a rare American-based setting that looks decidedly more stern than his usual proper-criminal capers. Reportedly a remake of the French crime noir thriller Le Convoyer, how does his newest experiment shake out?

The opening scene stages a flashpoint; from the single-camera setup and terrible viewing angle, it’s almost a guarantee this scene will be shown over and over again as details are layered in… and layered in they are. The story is told skipping forward and backward from the pivotal moment until viewers understand the gravity of it, or rather until they’re repeatedly beaten over the head with it. In a clear effort to defy expectations while at the same time sticking to old tropes, the expected culmination seems like a confusing letdown as the most interesting bits go unexplored and the surprises are reduced to near zero. Coupling this with a decidedly no-fun demeanor, the only wrath herein appears to be a disdain for character complexity and linear storytelling.

There are some fine action sequences and character moments — “Let the painter paint” — but few twists. This is most evident in the final act where the big vengeance scene is muted by a series of unfortunate events wiping the chessboard before the endgame. It feels hollow, like real life intruding on someone’s work of fiction, a cinematic slap in the face for daring to anticipate any expected unrealistic badassary. While all of this may be as intentional as it sounds — think of the three famous Western actors killed off in the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the West before introducing blue-eyed Henry Fonda as the big bad — it feels more like the rug being pulled out… or skipping to the last page of the script ala Last Action Hero.

The trailer is complicit in masking what this film is really about, and the plot is so jumbled that it’s easy to miss many of the subtleties and every complexity of a story that intentionally turns inward upon itself — just like the characters (get it?) Had this film set an expectation earlier or cast more unknowns to defy expectations, this could have had a genuine impact instead of tripping at the finish line.

Wrath of Man is rated R for some sexual references, pervasive language, strong violence throughout, and going out with a whimper.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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