Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck, also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman, his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less likely to summon more flamboyant reflexes.
Of course, many signature motifs are nevertheless present and correct. He’s playing about with the timeframe with steroidal glee, which involves retelling key events from different perspectives. The music is typically well tuned, led by an oppressively driving score by Chris Benstead (Ritchie’s go-to for several movies now). And the Stath is back, a Ritchie regular (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver) who took off as an action star thanks to a certain self-consciously gruff charisma (essentially a prized spot Bruce Willis vacated when he decided he wanted to be a serious actor, and with it lost his mojo).
The Stath’s last Ritchie movie was Revolver, which rather infamously bombed as the writer-director attempted to flex a philosophical muscle barely ever used (the Stath was set to be in the subsequent RocknRolla but, you know, scheduling). Not as badly as Swept Away, but at that point in his career, a retreat to the mockney milieu that proved so popular was essential to restart his brand (and from there, Hollywood beckoned). The Stath has done his fair share of serious roles, of course, and it isn’t really his strongest suit, let’s be clear. Here, though, glowering and clobbering people may be absent an all-purpose quip, but he’s more than serviceable in the part.
Ritchie’s impulse towards the unnecessarily pretentious when making a serious work is fortunately confined to the movie’s title and those of a series of acts (A Dark Spirit; Scorched Earth; Bad Animals, Bad; Lungs, Liver, Spleen, Heart), while the structural exertions are, for the most part, successfully tricksy. Never enough to wrong foot you, but sufficient to maintain a sense of intrigue and add dimensionality when the perspective shifts (as it does, several times).
Wrath of Man opens on a robbery involving fatalities. Cut to “H” (the Stath) being employed by the security firm involved, Fortico, and quickly progressing to proving his prowess in the fray; we’re soon apprised H isn’t what he seems – well obviously, he’s the Stath – as the FBI’s involvement (Andy Garcia, customarily unremarkable yet dependable) comes with the instruction to let H do his thing unhindered, despite being a known and wanted felon.
The first flashback (Scorched Earth) reveals H’s history, whereby his involvement in the robbery resulted in the death of his son Dougie (Eli Brown); H vows vengeance on the perpetrator(s), meeting with Garcia and promising results (“Just be mindful that I can only look confused for so long” comes the reply). The second (Bad Animals, Bad) introduces the gang behind the robbery, veterans including Jeffrey Donovan (as the leader, rather than the psycho) and Scott Eastwood (as the psycho, so marginally more memorable than he usually is). After this, there’s the final act showdown (Lungs, Liver, Spleen, Heart), as the gang enact a heist of the Fortico depot.
As soon as the plot reveals there’s an inside man at Fortico, the most obvious suspect is Holt McCallany’s agreeable, chatty guard Bullet. Of course, there’s a possibility it’s the company’s manager Eddie Marsan, the only cast member with a strong facility for chewing scenery yet consigned to a buttoned-down bureaucratic part (as such, he’s legitimately a red herring).
One might also have gone for Josh Hartnett’s “Boy Sweat” Dave, but we’ve already seen he has no bottle. It seems foolhardy to attempt to reinvent Josh Hartnett, but Ritchie has evidently set himself the challenge, since he’s also in his next, Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre. This will be Ritchie in his old producer’s spy movie territory; I’m betting that isn’t the final title either. Ritchie’s spy remake The Men from U.N.C.L.E. flopped, but it was pretty good fun for the most part, while Vaughn is currently switching from his Kingsman franchise to Argylle for Apple.
When your movie has Jeffrey Donovan playing reasonable and Scott Eastwood playing loose cannon, it makes it very obvious that Ritchie is reining things in on the performance front. Darrell D’Silva makes an impression, though, as H’s increasingly troubled – at the extremes H is going to in order to get revenge – right-hand man Mike.
The action is everything you’d expect from a Ritchie movie, confident and propulsive, even if there are one or two fonts of very obvious digital blood (de rigueur now, and likely to be even more so in the future, along with whatever other additional consequences arise from the latest Hollywood on-set fatality; rumours already abound regarding whatever occult import the incident may carry. It would be wilful blindness to rule anything out, particularly when you have such a perfectly posed banner pic of an overcome Alec).
Wrath of God might also be considered suggestive in several thematic areas. Ostensibly, all there is to this is a standard-issue revenger, one based on a decade-and-a-half old French property (in that one, the protagonist doesn’t walk away, however). Here, the villains are all veterans (nursing stock grievances: “The Afghans treated us better than our own”). The trail to their door also involves areas one might single out as Elite favourites – porn, human trafficking, witchcraft – and we all know Guy’s ex was their leading media figurehead (hence that programming-loaded Eurovision performance). Lest we assume Ritchie is casting himself as H in an act of atonement*, we should note his son is apparently slaughtered for denying Greta Thunberg minutes before (“Climate change is a natural phenomenon” Dougie informs a sceptical dad).
Wrath of Man did decent business (just less than a quarter of it in China), so Ritchie seems to have successfully banished the failure of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword with his cash-grab live-action Disney Aladdin (not always a sure thing, of course: see Dumbo). Wrath of Man is no The Gentleman, easily the most sure-footed escapade in the director’s larky wide-boy milieu, but it’s a more than proficient genre offering. The only caveat on his and the Stath’s next movie is that his lead actor is playing Orson Fortune, when what we all want from spy Stath is that Rick Ford movie.
*Addendum 12/04/23: One can forget acts of atonement. Ritchie is, it seems, dead. A clone has been making his movies over the past couple of years; he’s certainly been much more productive since he expired than he was in life.