The revenge thriller starring an older man coming after those who have wronged him or his family; is there a more played-out movie genre running right now? Ever since Liam Neeson obliterated a sex traffic ring trying to find his daughter, Hollywood has been pumping out these films non-stop, with more and more aging actors looking to capitalize on the market for these movies. It’s led to an inundation of low-effort fare. There are standouts, of course, like John Wick, The Equalizer, and I Saw the Devil but they are few and far between. Well, Add The Wrath of Man to that shortlist.
While the film is based on the French movie Cash Truck, it still does something original with the genre, jumping around in time and style while delivering a tightly told thriller with very little room to breathe. It is a brutal revenge film/hesit movie that doesn’t work on our sense of schadenfreude but instead on quality filmmaking and a story that features a hidden nuance behind a mask of machismo and bloody violence.
Wrath of Man
Director: Guy Ritchie
Release Date: May 7, 2021 (Theatrical)
Unlike most revenge films, Wrath of Man doesn’t open with the usual set up of establishing a family man with a certain set of skills living in suburban happiness after a career of violence until something bad happens and he goes on a killing-spree of bad guys to gain revenge/rescue his loved ones. Wrath of Man opens in media res instead. We meet “H” (Jason Statham) as he gets hired to drive armored vehicles around LA. We’re introduced to a slew of other guards in a hyper-masculine setting and the movie seems more like a heist film than a revenge thriller. However, after H stops an attempted heist with brutal precision it’s very clear something is amiss. From there, the movie jumps around in time cleverly revealing more about H and why an obviously trained killer is working as an armored vehicle guard.
The linchpin of the film is an armored car heist (there are multiple in the film but one key one). The movie opens during the heist but Ritchie fantastically keeps the camera entirely in the armored car in a single shot that blocks out anything going on outside. We see this heist occur multiple times during the film, each time either filling in more details about what’s going on or for emotional impact. The film plays lightly with a Rashomon-style point of view interpretation of the scene each time, delivering a revenge thriller that uniquely delivers rounded characters for both sides of the story.
I’m trying to talk around spoilers for the film because going in blind is the best way to do it, as the film is built around reveals of who characters are and what exactly is going on. However, what becomes clear is that no one here is really the bad guy aside from one asshole. The movie plays out like a revenge thriller on the one hand and a heist movie on the other, with both sides being the “good guy” depending on which genre you’re watching. Each time we see more of the initial heist it opens up the story to more interpretations until everything explodes in a massive heist sequence at the end of the film. It is a fantastic take that injects some originality and unpredictability into a genre that is withering on the vine at the moment.
Ritchie — who is back on his game with two quality, twisting crime thrillers in a row — directs the movie smartly, keeping the film short and tight. The time-jumping can feel a little messy in the beginning as you attempt to figure out what’s going on but once you do the structure makes sense. Ritchie’s fast-paced style works wonders for the film and he does clever things with the structure of the movie. It also helps he can piece together an action sequence as multiple heists play out with fantastic, frantic action.
Statham delivers a stoic performance that has surprising layers. Where stoicism is often the only character trait we get from the “hero” of revenge thrillers, here it is treated as a shield. His character clearly has emotional issues and the movie, while never directly addressing it, often makes you feel uncomfortable with his callous killing. It’s still badass but you’re never fully applauding his rampages, especially since those that he is killing don’t always deserve it.
Wrath of Man is a revenge thriller at its core, and by the end, that’s what it delivers. It never really tries to be much more and yet that helps it be so. There’s no feeling of trying to be artistic or out-of-the-box and yet through its structure and storytelling, it delivers something more nuanced and layered. Yes, it’s full of brutal, badass action you want from both heist movies and revenge thrillers but there’s a hint of enough more to deliver a film that feels far deeper than its surface.