A dramatic step back from the big, overblown movies that have earned Guy Ritchie occasional box office success but little critical love, Wrath of Man wraps vengeance up in a chronologically twisted robbers-vs-robbers pic. Ritchie’s first team-up with erstwhile leading man Jason Statham — who’s had considerably more success testing his range while nailing down a surefire action-hero persona — in 16 years, it looks like an ideal fit for the actor: Here, he plays a gruff man of mystery who works for an armored-car company while plotting a violent surprise. If the result keeps the character’s rage on ice a bit too long and never approaches the swaggering appeal of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, most of the director’s old fans will still be grateful he’s not offering them Aladdin II or The Man Who Got U.N.C.L.E. Canceled.
Statham’s Patrick Hill, soon to be dubbed H by nickname-happy co-worker Bullet (Holt McCallany), enters the film while applying for a new job at Fortico Security, whose trucks often carry as much as $15 million a day. H’s experience in the field is impeccable — though it all happened overseas, like your high school friend whose “I swear she’s real” girlfriend lived abroad — and you just have to look at him to know he’s fit for the gig. So why is he surprisingly mediocre in his marksmanship and driving tests? What’s this dude hiding?
Fortico is a workplace full of gratuitous homophobia and belittlement-as-bonding. There’s the requisite Tough Chick (Niamh Algar, a standout in HBO’s Raised by Wolves), who shares the locker room and its attitudes with her macho co-workers, and a lot of false bravado from young men who saw two peers killed in a holdup just a few weeks ago. But these dudes can give credit where it’s due, and when H foils another robbery in ultra-lethal fashion (huh, guess he can shoot after all), he becomes an instant god at the depot.
Leaping back five months in time, we witness a tragedy that changed the course of H’s old life, see him fail to avenge it and meet a crew of men who’re robbing the kind of trucks he’ll soon be driving. This gang is made up of former soldiers who miss the action of the battlefield; when their old sarge (Jeffrey Donovan) suggests a project more lucrative than rent-a-cop work, they jump at it. They quickly move on to much bigger scores and, as usual, one in their number looks poised to wreck it all: Scott Eastwood’s Jan, whose stone-cool demeanor hides a rash streak that led to much of the story’s trouble.
Ritchie and his fellow screenwriters offer a few more “x months earlier/later” bounces beyond the point at which they have twists left to unveil. Since Wrath’s several action scenes have plenty of crime-flick appeal, one wonders at the reasons for their contortions. Did they test a more strictly linear edit and find viewers less than engaged? One unfortunate effect of the jumbling is that it cools off Statham’s slow-boil performance, and prompts us to question the logic behind H’s plan. And when the tough guy gets sidelined for a large stretch of the third act, there’s far less tension than there might’ve been if we’d experienced his plan from start to finish.
In the end, a couple of uncredited cameos hold more surprise value than anything in the last act, in which the vets try to rob all of Fortico’s trucks at once on Black Friday. Don’t get too distracted wondering if $180 million would really fit into those few duffel bags. Or if any commercial-minded action pic will really prevent Jason Statham from winning in the end.