Guy Ritchie made Jason Statham a star, with memorable turns in Ritchie’s acclaimed, Tarantino-esque British crime movies Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. But it was Luc Besson (and Robert Kamen) who made Statham a superstar in The Transporter. From then on, Jason Statham wasn’t just an actor but a name brand, synonymous with a particular type of character — a sort of hooligan James Bond, who drove flash sazz wagons, bedded fit birds, and delivered proper thrashins. (Ain’ dat roight, Tommy?)
Wrath of Man‘s intriguing project is to re-team Jason Statham as we now know him with his old pal Guy Ritchie as we now know him — director of everything from 2019’s Alladin to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (the best Bond movie of the last 20 years, if you ask me). They’re together for an English remake of the 2004 French film Le Convoyeur, by Nicolas Boukhrief (whose English title, “Cash Truck,” is infinitely better than “Wrath Of Man”).
Wrath of Man is crystal clear on which version of Jason Statham it wants to present, but the movie around him is a strange, fitfully compelling muddle. It’s a film that’s alternately odd and entertaining, but ultimately doesn’t quite translate, stuck halfway between The Transporter and Heat.
Jason Statham plays a character named Hill, a strong silent type applying for a job at a weirdly garrulous armored car company. His chummy evaluator, played by Holt McCallany from Mindhunter (an Easter Island statue of a man whose rough-hewn features are just fun to look at) tells Hill he needs to get at least a 70 on his shooting/driving/lifting test in order to get the job. Hill scores a 70 on the dot, in an evaluation that he’s clearly muffing on purpose. McCallany’s character welcomes him to the team with a handshake and a new nickname, “H.” McCallany, aka “Bullet,” introduces H to all the fellas — Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett), Hollow Bob, and Dana (girls don’t get nicknames, apparently).
It’s a great sequence, mostly thanks to the oddball tone, in which eager actors gamely attempt to chew their way through wildly unnatural dialogue that’s like neon marbles in their mouths. Every scene at the armored car company is so curiously over-written that it feels almost like a Yorgos Lanthimos movie, or Don Delillo remaking Troy Duffy. Sample dialogue:
Hey, is that coffee still hot?
Yeah, it’s hot enough.
You ever thought about uh, buying a coffee maker?
A coffee maker?
You know, one that’s got that, milk, uh froster thing?
Oh yeah, frother, I gotcha.
That way you can, uh, make your own cappuccino.
It’s like the script was written by a French man whose only model for Americans was cereal commercials.
Hollow Bob, incidentally, is played by British stunt actor Rocci Williams, one of a handful of actors in Wrath of Man doing American regional accents so badly that you can’t tell if they’re supposed to be meatheads or just hard of hearing. Ball-busting, unnecessary exposition, and masculine threat behavior combine in this Wrath of Man dialect-unto-itself, which I like to call “Crimespeak.” Crimespeak is miles from naturalistic, but weirdly entertaining, like a normal action movie refracted through the lens of a Frenchman not quite getting it. This surreal quality gets turned up to 11 when “H” fearlessly defuses a hostage situation by shooting all the bad guys in the head, and Rob Delaney shows up as an armored car company executive who wants to give H a promotion.
None of this is what you’d call “believable,” exactly, but it is thoroughly compelling in its uncanny valley oddness. The big question of the film is “who is this H, and why is he such a badass?” The biggest flaw of the film is that it goes to the ends of the Earth explaining H’s motivation, without ever getting who he is. Turns out, it all goes back to another armored car robbery, teased in the film’s cold open.
We end up seeing this opening robbery a handful of different times from different characters’ perspectives, Snatch style, including title cards. These scenes explore who did it, how H was involved, and his motive for taking the job at the loquacious security company. Curiously, the latter half of the film essentially drops the style of over-written dialogue established in the first half of the film and essentially turns into an orgy of violence.
Though perhaps “orgy” is the wrong word. People at an orgy are generally having fun. These scenes are utilitarian, more like the filmmakers going through the motions of killing off enough characters to get the movie finished than enjoying themselves. Which is a shame, because “fun action” is traditionally something Guy Ritchie has been pretty good at.
Act 3 of Wrath of Man seems to exist on the premise of “more bullets better,” and it’s not dull, exactly, it’s just hard to go from pitter-patter dialogue about milk frothing and handjobs to grimacing guys firing sub-machine guns and not have it be a bit of a letdown. Who is H? Why is everyone talking like that? Why did we stop having fun all of a sudden? I may have to go back and watch Cash Truck to figure it out.