It’s been years since Jason Statham last teamed with director Guy Ritchie for “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998), “Snatch” (2000) and “Revolver” (2005).
Now, they reunite in “Wrath of Man,” a riveting action-crime flick that is simultaneously perfect for Statham’s persona and uniquely against type for Ritchie. That might displease Ritchie’s most ardent supporters, but non-fans like me will find it refreshing.
The plot follows H (Statham), a mysterious new hire at the Fortico cash truck company, which transports hundreds of millions of dollars around Los Angeles every week. When a gang of heist experts plot to hit the trucks with elite precision, H repeatedly thwarts their efforts with a cold-blooded calm that both wows and troubles his superiors.
“Wrath of Man” features familiar faces from Josh Hartnett to Andy Garcia, with standout performances by Holt McCallany as H’s wise-cracking superior, Jeffrey Donovan as the criminal mastermind and Scott Eastwood as a sinister alternative to his prior hunk roles.
It’s fitting casting as Statham channels Clint Eastwood in “High Plains Drifter” (1973) or “Pale Rider” (1985) as an immortal being unleashing divine payback in a film marked with chapter titles like “A Scorched Earth.” It’s never explained why Statham is impervious to violence or resurrected from the dead; he’s simply called a “dark spirit.”
At one point, a colleague jokes that “H” stands for “Jesus H. Christ,” while the title “Wrath of Man” recalls the Biblical “Wrath of God.” Flashbacks show that H lost a son just like God, but this analogy is a reach. One was crucified by the Romans; the other was killed by faux construction workers while his dad got grub from a fusion food truck.
The plot ultimately boils down to just another revenge tale (i.e. “Taken”) of a father avenging his child, so you’ve gotta dock points for originality. Based on the French flick “Le Convoyeur” (2004), which translates to “Cash Truck,” you might expect a shootout between Statham and Ben Bailey (“Cash Cab”) in a bullet-riddled red light challenge!
Ritchie’s direction doesn’t use the flashy, quick-cutting, hyperactive style that we’ve come to expect. That is a compliment, as some of Ritchie’s past work felt like more style than substance. In “Wrath of Man,” the action is more grounded, recalling the work of Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1996) or Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008).
On the down side, Ritchie still revels in the same macho stereotypes. The humor is often guys calling other guys “ladies,” while there aren’t any strong female characters. The one woman is H’s colleague (Niamh Alga), who seems promising by landing a few zingers, only to sleep with the protagonist, then do nothing for the rest of the movie.
Still, it’s a thrill seeing Statham continue his 21st-century action run from “Transporter” (2002-2008) to “Fast & Furious” (2013-present), proving so charming with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that they got their own enjoyable spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” (2019).
“Wrath of Man” is much-watch stuff for any fan of Statham. Count me in that camp. I admittedly watched an advance screener link at home, but if you’re fully vaccinated, this would make a hell of a flick to catch as your first trip back to the movie theater.