You’d be forgiven if, in the first 30 minutes of Wrath of Man, you start to think that director Guy Ritchie has gotten his mojo back after a string of disappointing films. The director’s early success with machismo-spewing tough guys took a backseat to fairly lousy big-budget movies until 2020’s abysmal The Gentlemen, which felt a lot like Ritchie trying to dive into the shallow pool of what once worked for him. The first act of four chronologically displaced and increasingly convoluted acts in Wrath of Man plays like the director realized his style doesn’t fit sprawl anymore. For at least a moment in time, Wrath of Man is pretty awesome — almost enough to save the rest of the movie that transpires.
It opens with an armored truck heist gone wrong; the audience only hears the gunshots and screaming from inside the truck. Five months later, H (Jason Statham) is hired at the armored truck company Fortico Security, which has been experiencing a rash of robberies and wants to up its game. He doesn’t have a lot to say, but when his first assignment is hit by a group of would-be thieves, he makes his talents for headshots and angry one-liners known.
Soon, though, Ritchie gets distracted from making a return-to-form both for himself and Statham by flashing back, and even sometimes shifting character perspectives, to explain in excruciating detail why H wants to hunt truck robbers, who those truck robbers are, and what those truck robbers want. It’s a lesser Heat clone than, say, Den of Thieves, particularly because, unlike that film, the lack of clear heroes in Wrath of Man translates to a lack of characters, period. This becomes a problem as the last act mostly revolves around anything but H delivering just desserts to the gang of bank robbers with whom he has beef. Josh Hartnett makes his return to the big screen as a cowardly guard named “Boy Sweat Dave.” Jeffrey Donovan leads the group of thieves. Scott Eastwood plays Jan, the man H most wants to kill. Holt McCallany plays Bullet, H’s trainer. It’s a good cast. None of them is especially interesting, and it’s particularly strange to cast Eastwood as the heavy opposite Statham; not sure I bought it.
After the initial opening, it’s a wonder how hard the rest of the film lands with a resounding thud. That opening is so good, however, that it maintains the energy of the story long after Ritchie has descended into making his implausible-dream bank-heist scenario a silver-screen reality rather than focusing on the badass loner character he put on the cover of the film. H’s ultimate motivations are so thin, and the sequence of events leading to his quest for vengeance so silly, that it would’ve been better to not know them. Ritchie has regularly employed a non-chronological style, one that very rarely enhances the stories he tells. It’s a shame that for about 30 blissful minutes, it felt like he and Statham had landed on a simple, effective action outlet for all the silly, grimdark manly-man-isms they have saved up in their back pocket without a place to use them in their more mainstream careers.