Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham have been quite the dynamic duo over the last two decades, particularly Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, which were Statham’s first roles overall. The two have an understanding bordering on rapport when they work together, filling in each other’s creative gaps with ease. Statham isn’t the best actor, but Ritchie gives him the proper dialogue to deliver. Ritchie isn’t the best at executing action sequences (though conceptually he’s brilliant), but Statham can deliver fight choreography like it’s fucking ballet.
Their latest collaboration is Wrath of Man, a stylized remake of the early 2000s French heist film, Cash Truck, and it continues their trend of feeding off each other with aplomb. Once again they make a wonderful pair, bringing out the best in each other for some pretty decent thrills. Unfortunately, the rest of the film feels completely phoned in, if not downright awful.
There’s a bit of cleverness to the plot structure, divided into four acts surrounding Statham as “H,” the newest recruit as a security driver for an armored truck company in Los Angeles. Each chapter – introduced with a title slate featuring a quote from that section – highlights a different aspect of the chief characters, with the fourth bringing everything to a head. H is a local mob boss whose son (Eli Brown) was murdered by a rival crew of truck robbers. Seeking revenge, he assumes a new identity and takes a job with Bullet (Holt McCallany) as his trainee, hoping to encounter the killers during an attempted robbery. The robbers are led by Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan), a methodical planner, though the crew’s loose cannon Jan (Scott Eastwood) threatens their success. All sides see the botched heist from their own perspective, piecing together the larger puzzle, and granting appropriate hints and clues to the ultimate villain’s identity as we go.
Honestly, the film itself starts out pretty strong. In one long, unbroken shot, we see the attack from inside the truck unfold in real time, never exiting despite smoke bombs and the sound of gunshots outside. It creates a bit of suspense and mystery to the whole affair. Later, when H, Bullet, and “Boy Sweat Dave” (my God has Josh Hartnett’s career fallen off) get ambushed, H goes on a miniature rampage that results in Post Malone getting his head blown off. Clearly, Ritchie knows how to give audiences what they want.
But after that promising start, everything pretty much goes down the toilet. Basically every character that gets introduced after Bullet is an interchangeable tough guy stereotype (even – and especially – the one woman, played by Niamh Algar), with only the most minimal of character development. It’s just enough to merit an “Oh yeah, who was that again?” as they eventually all get mowed down in one way or another.
Then there’s the acting, which, holy shit is it bad. Jason Statham has made a career out of being a gruff, soft-spoken badass with a stare that will give you chills, so of course he’s in his element and completely on point. The rest of the cast, however, is atrocious. After the first major action sequence, H is congratulated by his boss’s boss, who compliments and promotes him while spouting off this completely robotic speech about H being a hero. I almost thought he had to be some high-level bad guy with how fake his dialogue felt, but no, it was just how he was directed to perform. After that, I noticed pretty much everyone giving the exact same atonal delivery with no sense of pacing whatsoever. I’ve seen pornos with more convincing line readings. When the villain finally reveals themselves, it’s such a blasé monologue that it felt like it was market tested with a middle school drama club.
There are some good scenes here and there, particularly when H is in revenge mode tracking down the gang who killed his son. The resources that his enforcers put on display to track down potential leads is kind of intimidating and amazing, and there’s this weird sense of underlying understanding between kingpins that even when they kidnap and torture each other, it’s for a higher cause, and that any transgression can be forgiven if it’s in service to that more noble end. Plus, we get some pretty righteous wish fulfillment scenes, like the execution of some true lowlifes running an underage sex ring.
But that goodwill is squandered when we get to the climactic operation. All the details are laid out through cheap exposition and cross-cutting flashbacks where Jackson has seemingly accounted for every contingency except the obvious risk of Jan’s avarice. The violence is gratuitous to the point where it seems like Ritchie was making up moments on the spot to justify offing half the cast.
And from the standpoint of a Los Angeles local, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absolute horseshit representation of L.A. geography. Most of the action of the film takes place in East L.A., in an area of town dubbed “City of Industry.” Its name is pretty self-explanatory, with lots of factories, warehouses, and shipping operations. It’s a much more gritty-looking section of town, with not that much in the way of visible housing units, though there’s plenty of worker activity. After the heist turns into a chase, police are suddenly tracking the characters along “405 Northbound,” as a dispatch radio announces. First of all, Californians refer to highways with the definite article, “the.” It’s an odd local quirk I’ve never experienced in any other place I’ve lived. So if we were being even remotely accurate, dispatch would have said, “North on the 405.” Second, the accompanying shot to match that dialogue shows the chasing cars on a side street along the highway, not on the highway itself. Any competent officer would note the actual street (probably Sepulveda Blvd). Third, and most importantly, the 405 is on the WEST side of Los Angeles, nearly 30 miles away from City of Industry. In the best of traffic conditions, this is a half-hour drive, and we’re there in less than 30 seconds, in broad daylight. It gets even more absurd when the bad guy thinks they’ve gotten away, switching cars near the Port of Long Beach not five minutes later. Long Beach is SOUTH of downtown Los Angeles, so there’s no way they’d be going NORTH on the 405, and just for good measure, tack on another 30 miles.
This is even more egregious than the geography in Despicable Me 3, and that one somehow had the Hollywood Sign visible from the Santa Monica Pier, even though they’re nowhere near each other, and the sign faces south, not west to the beach. The chase would have been more believable – and would have saved more than half the actual travel time – if they just went from City of Industry to Long Beach, rather than creating what is essentially a giant triangle around the southern half of L.A. County. I know this sounds like a nitpick, and it is, but I’ve lived here long enough that such a lazy bit of ADR can take me right out of the picture. It felt like Ritchie just had the actors name random roads and areas of Los Angeles and cut around them in the span of mere minutes rather than put forth the barely above minimum effort to make it logical. At least with Despicable Me 3 it was a cartoon, so you had the excuse of cartoon rules you make up as you go along. This, however, when you’re trying to get the audience excited and you work in the very city you’re depicting? There’s no excuse.
It’s a symptom of the larger problem that bogs down the whole film. It really feels like once Ritchie and Statham got together again, they just assumed the magic would happen just as it always has, and let it go from there. And as far as the duo is concerned, they were right. When it’s this actor working with this director and resuming a longstanding partnership and friendship, we get the best moments of the entire flick. But everything else, from the acting to the scripting to the action itself, felt like it was treated like an afterthought, and the cast and crew involved appeared to take that cue and decided not to give a shit. It’s a real shame, too, because when this movie is on point, it’s REALLY on point. This could have risen to John Wick levels of awesomeness. Instead, we got about 30 minutes of brilliance and 90 minutes that would embarrass Steven Seagal.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Do you like Jason Statham as an action star? Do you think heist movies are so worn out that Rick Sanchez should just deconstruct them forever? Let me know!