Hello, everyone! If you’re like me, you’ve never committed armed robbery. You’ve definitely thought about it, but the shooty-shooty part, and the life in prison part, probably put you off the whole idea. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t armed robbery seem a little too risky to be a full time job? I was really on the fence about the whole thing until I watched Guy Ritchie’s latest action film Wrath of Man, a movie that makes me see armed robbery in a totally new light. Yes, my friends, I’m here to spread the gospel. The next get-rich-quick scheme is armed robbery. Just get a group of your closest friends, illegally purchase some automatic rifles from your neighborhood gun dealer, and you’ll be rolling in money in no time. Disclosure: death, grievous bodily injury, and Jason Statham’s wrath may occur.
Synopsis: Former security guard H (Jason Statham) joins Fortico, an armored truck company. His colleagues warn him that the job is dangerous; a few months earlier, armed robbers killed two guards and a civilian during a robbery attempt. But Hill isn’t fazed, and during a robbery on his first day, his colleagues Bullet (Holt McCallany) and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) soon see why. Despite barely passing his weapons training, H executes the robbers like a professional. Who is H, and why has he joined Fortico? A heist gone wrong, a dead civilian, and a revenge plot intertwine in this thriller about a man whose wrath knows no bounds.
My thoughts: Wrath of Man is the semi-thinking man’s shooty shooty movie, less intelligent and introspective than a film like The Town, but slicker and more sophisticated than movies like Fast and the Furious or The Expendables. Based on the French film Le Convoyeur, Wrath of Man is darker, more violent, and more depressing that your average heist movie, with threads of black comedy that seem jarringly out of place.
The trailer makes Wrath seem like a brain-dead action thriller, and for the first twenty minutes of the film, that’s what the script delivers. I’ve heard that Ritchie is a witty screenwriter, but his humor in this script, while covering all of the hilarious bases of locker-room talk like gay jokes, rapist jokes, and gay rapist jokes, falls incredibly flat. Everyone H meets seem like a major loser, and it’s unclear whether we’re supposed to sympathize with these super douches or to see them as the villains.
Ritchie never gives us enough information about these characters to help us make up our minds. All of the characters, from family man Bullet, to man-baby Boy Sweat Dave (some of that fine humor in action), to the enigmatic H, are thinly sketched caricatures that rely on the charisma of their actors to fill in their gaping holes in characterization. And while all of the three actors have charisma to spare, only Jason Statham’s H has enough to pull in the audience’s sympathy. His tragic backstory also doesn’t hurt. And if the men are poorly written, they’re nothing compared to the female characters, whose only roles are to pop up on screen for fifteen seconds and say “Honey, what about the kids?” Yes, all but one of the 4 female characters in this film are the Totino’s Pizza Wife, and the other one only exists to have sex with Jason Statham and provide some gender diversity in the boy’s club of armored truck drivers.
Now if Wrath of Man was just a brain dead action thriller, then this lack of characterization wouldn’t bother me, but it’s clear that the movie is trying to be an intelligent morally ambiguous heist thriller, not a popcorn film, so I have to hold the script to a higher standard. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bear further scrutiny. The overarching plot is a standard revenge thriller, jumping between past and present. We learn H’s motivations for joining the armored truck company and see just how dangerous the mild mannered man can be when pushed to his limits. The flashback section is the movie’s finest, demonstrating that Richie is at his best when working within the comfortable confines of the organized crime genre. There is some shocking violence in this section, but it all has a rhyme and a reason, and the actions of H and his team seem believable.
The movie loses its credibility when it jumps to the present and focuses on the armed robbery of these cash trucks. Now I’m not an expert on armed robbery, but I highly doubt that there would be multiple criminal gangs setting out to rob cash trucks, and doing it often enough in the same city that H gets robbed twice in his first week. Not only does it defy belief, but it makes armed robbery seem really easy. All these guys have to do is stick up these trucks and suddenly the highly trained armed professionals inside of them fork over the money like it’s no big deal. Surely the whole point of an armored truck is to make armed robbery more difficult, right? Or am I missing something here?
My point is that the concept, while exciting, doesn’t seem even remotely realistic, and that makes this film instantly transform from a serious heist thriller to a popcorn movie. The tone of this movie is difficult to pin down. It slips from black comedy, to violent thriller, to Oceans 13 style heist movie, to revenge drama, and back again, which makes the overall film feel in-cohesive. When I walked away from the movie, I wasn’t sure about the big takeaway. Was I supposed to feel sympathy for the men working for the armored truck company, sympathy for the robbers trying to make a living, or sympathy for Statham and his quest for vengeance? In the end, I didn’t feel a thing for any of them, and I don’t think a director of Richie’s calibre would ever make a movie with that intention.
Aesthetically, the movie is stylish, with a muted noir color palette and some slick editing. Composer Chris Benstead’s ominous original soundtrack pulled the whole film together with a coherence that the script itself lacked. And the remix of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” lent some vintage drama and elegance to the film’s best act. Wrath of Man wins style points by providing polish and panache in a genre that is usually drab and generic.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of this movie will depend on what you’re looking for. Even with the criticisms I noted above, Wrath of Man is still worth the watch. The action sequences are exciting, Jason Statham is magnetic, and the revenge plot is riveting enough to keep your attention. It’s the perfect movie for a breezy Saturday night. It doesn’t hold a candle, however, to other genre fare like Hell or High Water or Widows. What Wrath of Man needs to set it apart from the pack is some sort of deeper meaning. Unfortunately, the movie is shallower than a tidal pool. But boy does it make armed robbery look fun.