Guy Ritchie’s The Wrath of Man, which plays like a knock off of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (story presentation wise; 1994) starring Mick Jagger as the dancing hitman ala John Wick 3 (villains all dressed in bulletproof armor; 2019) starring Dustin Hoffman as the assassin extraordinaire, came up way short of what could have been a great film. Wait, what? Did I get those films mixed up?
No, because if those were the stars of those two films, the movies wouldn’t have worked. Casting Jason Statham as the mad-hatter H (short for Patrick Hill), a wild-eyed, insane in the brain, precision ballistic security guard for a cash truck company would have best been served by casting someone else. I’ve known Statham a number of years and am also a big fan of his work, yet sorry to share this my man, Bruce Willis may have been a better choice. Why?
This film just goes to show you why Jackie Chan is the king of what he does, martial arts fights combined with death defying stunts. Even at the right old age of 67, he pulled off great fight scenes in his latest film Vanguard (2020). As a possible martial arts star, Jason Statham came along compliments of one of Hong Kong greatest fight directors, Corey Yuen, who cast Statham in The Transporter (2002). Yuen also happens to be one of Jackie Chan’s Chinese Beijing Opera brothers since childhood, thus Yuen’s pedigree as an action director and fight choreographer is phenomenal.
From Transporter on, one has always been guaranteed that if an action film stars Statham, one can expect to see creative action, mind boggling unarmed combat and novel camera choreography, which all highlight Statham’s remarkable skills.
Who’d have thought that non-martial artist Keanu Reeves would make Statham sadly look like a rookie fighter, and in Wrath of Man, Statham has avoided all combat but at what cost? Earlier I shared Ritchie would have done better to cast Willis. The reason for this is although Willis is somewhat typecast with having a heroic badass action persona, he is not known for high octane, over the edge, kick-ass unarmed combat scenarios using advance martial arts choreography. Wait, did I just plagiarize hundreds of other film critics…let’s add, roller coaster ride, wall-to-wall action, thrilling, mesmerizing, you know, words critics never use over and over to describe these kinds of films.
Using ballistic weaponry in film is easy to do, you point and aim. Doing martial duels against many thugs at the same time or against a superb martial villain is difficult. Seems Statham is becoming the next Steven Seagal, a man who rocked the martial arts cinema world with Above the Law (1988) and now similar to Statham, 20 years later is also relying on guns. And it’s not fancy John Woo gun fights but the kind of stuff anyone could do. Even again Reeves outdoes Statham with his gun performance in John Wick 3. Why is that? Because Reeves is still willing to put time, energy and heart into the gun choreography and learn it well enough to do long takes (BTW, as did Jada Pinkett Smith).
My disappointment now rendered, using my mind’s eye to relive Wrath with Willis clicks in…
Ritchie masterly tries to create a plot twisting surrealism jolt using a Tarantino-like, five act screenplay as the plot, time-wise, jumps back and forth like an English jumping Jack firework used during Guy Fawkes night, the man that failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Yet the only thing blowing up in the film is H’s other plan that blows up in his face, putting him on a journey of gut-wrenching revenge as he unleashes precision ballistic ballet subjectivity and objectivity that wreaks of all around doom for those who cross his path.
Ritchie’s weakness is that he doesn’t know how to shoot action. The most creative gun fight is the film opening bullet barrage when H gets in a fix, he reaches into his Felix the Cat-like Bag of Tricks and that’s when our hearts go frantically pitter pat watching H, the ballistic cat.
Though the finale showdown, an elongated gunfight between all the twisted parties involved, falls short with no imagination, it’s still quasi-satisfying as Statham does his impersonation of Clint Eastwood. And by that I mean Statham and Eastwood act the same way in every film they do, using similar voice inflections and faces for most of their films’ emotional centerpieces yet they pull off the characters as if they are all different.
At the end of the day, Wrath is violent, gritty and chilling like a cold day in 1605 Ire-land. Bottoms up.