Guy Ritchie’s taut yet grim ‘Wrath of Man’ offers “ful gergl” Statham experience

Statham

United Artists

DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Preread Yiddish Lesson: Ful gergl = Full Throttle

Patrick Hill (Jason Statham), the new guy at a deadly cash truck job in Los Angeles, is quickly given the nickname of “H” by his supervisor, Bullet (Holt McCallany). While this is initially done to make his transition into the crew more comfortable, it could simply be for the fact that this guy is capable of bad things. When he saves the team from a heist, one could say the “H” stands for “hazardous.”

In Guy Ritchie’s “Wrath of Man,” Statham’s mysterious loner is a bad omen to just about anybody, especially people who cross him or don’t shoot him enough times. The taut yet grim action thriller spares no lives and doesn’t pull a punch for its two hour run time, with the two Brits working hand in hand on a more straightforward playing field. Instead of a snatch and grab film with comedic DNA laced in, this is lock, stock, and thirteen smoking barrels of Ritchie/Statham having a lot of fun.

ADVERTISEMENT

Don’t be mistaken by the actor’s cold-eyed brooding stare. That’s all part of his charm. It’s his trademark and well-suited to the character, one that the audience doesn’t know much about as the film opens up. Before the screenplay can stretch his legs, H has already saved the crew from two potential heists, but he doesn’t exactly have his teammates’ trust. Bullet preaches patience while Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett in his return to mainstream cinema shores) doesn’t like his aggressiveness under fire. Suffice to say H isn’t your normal security guy, and he has a score to settle.

Here’s what Ritchie gets right, and why this film is worth watching. The action scenes are full-throttle excitement, and the screenplay takes its time in revealing exactly what is driving Statham’s H and filters in a couple of twists that the audience may not see coming. This storytelling device isn’t performed to keep you off balance yet gives you a chance to understand the anti-hero’s intentions.

This isn’t your normal Statham actioner, but it’s also not a fast-talking Ritchie film joint like “The Gentlemen” either. “Wrath of Man” exists somewhere in the middle; a more sophisticated blend of entertainment, but also a film that’s cold to the touch. Christopher Benstead’s score is atmospheric yet morose, giving the idea that few people will be left standing by the time credits start rolling. The cinematography is above grade here as well as well. Music-wise, there’s a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison” that needs to be downloaded.

A nimble and intuitively-chosen cast makes the screenplay look good here. Character actors like McCallany, Eddie Marsan and Jeffrey Donovan are valuable players in any film, but here they get to sprinkle a few surprises on top of their film personas. Fans of “The Boys” will love seeing Laz Alonso, and Scott Eastwood gets to chew some scenery. Andy Garcia pulls a page from his “Confidence” role, continuing his late career work of popping up in movies and building a character out of scraps. Darrell D’Silva has a solid role as an integral part of H’s plan. Everybody looks and talks their part seamlessly here, helping push a faulty screenplay across the line.

Here’s why “Wrath of Man” is good, but not great. The story loses its way a bit in the second half, fumbling the high-mind intrigue of the first half. The pacing slows to a sludge at times in the third act, as if the audience is simply waiting for all the characters to gather in one spot and start shooting each other. 15-20 minutes could have been trimmed. This is where I tell you a script doesn’t require five writers.

All in all, it’s well made and gets the job done, featuring Statham at his bullet-headed man of action best: Dispensing justice and keeping us on our toes morally. It can’t be said enough how efficient of an action star he is. He just looks the part of someone who shouldn’t be trifled with. We aren’t sure what to make of H’s actions, but we also can’t take our eyes off him. As a cinema fan once told me, “he’s something else.” Under Ritchie’s cool yet cold gaze here, he’s having a whole lot of fun-even if he’s not smiling much.

Bottom Line: While it’s not as intelligent or layered as I expected, “Wrath of Man” delivers the entertainment that the trailer promised, right down to the very end. Statham fans should rejoice, and Ritchie fans will nod in approval while expecting more next time.