Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Jason Statham, Holy McCallany, Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan, Scott Eastwood and Niamh Algar
Review by Damocles
Guy Ritchie … just film only in Britain please.
It is often the case that the American who goes to Europe, is the one who sticks out like a sore thumb. To quote an infamous character, I was a dumb American, in a place where dumb Americans are less popular than the clap.
However, I feel with Guy Ritchie, it is the other way around. He is this cockney lad, feeling and looking decidedly out of place, whose witticisms, fast-paced dialogue and British sensibilities just don’t mesh with the simpler American values and customs.
This contrast, is clearly reflected in the film, where we follow “H” as he works undercover in a security company to uncover the mystery of who was behind the murder of his son. If you find a lack of mention being granted to secondary characters or antagonists, then that is deliberate, as all of them suffer from real depth.
The story is simple enough, but it lacks the more direct formula of the initial John Wick film.
In the first John Wick film, there is a focus at the very beginning of the film to establish the emotional stakes and the grief that Wick himself is experiencing., Thus the loss of his dog, expounds upon his sorrow and causes him to lash out at the NYC Russian Mob. A clear villain is established in the pairing of Iosef and Viggo and there are a lot of scenes to establish their characters and the obstacles that Wick himself need to clear to achieve his revenge.
In Wrath of Man, there are simply not enough emotional scenes to establish the motivation of H, nor to the villains. If anything, this film takes too many liberties with time, pacing and poor devotions to scene that don’t really pay off in any meaningful way.
I also fail to see how H’s British nature really lend any meaningful story contributions, which is where I felt Ritchie’s natural cockney leanings were completely out of place with the setting of the film.
Of particular criticism is the lack of Ritchie’s signature flair in the film. So many scenes were lacking his usual energy and vibe and many I felt spent too long on strange elements of H’s actions (not his character) that never necessitated anything to the overall plot of revenge.
There are just so many scenes dedicated to establishing what a “dark spirit” H’s character was, but they never truly pay off. Instead they serve to undermine a character who doesn’t seem to emote, react in any way or speak. This is in stark contrast to a character like John Wick, who does behave stoically, but there are scenes with him, in private, where he displays raw emotions.
H, on the other hand, is repeatedly referred to by other characters as a dark spirit, but is never really shown to be one. He has a moral code, and is repeatedly shown as a relatively dull anti-hero.
In particular, the way how the film handled the actual villains of the story was very poor, which so little scenes dedicated to them and I particularly felt their introduction was very weak as they were randomly introduced half way through the film. There was so-so Richtie-esque ribbing in the dialogue, but it never set them up as anything meaningful. In addition, the story of the “turncoat” was so obvious, that the reveal meant very little in the end.
In regards to the cinematography, it was remarkably average, with a big nose-dive in the action sequences. Statham looked like he had very little to do, beyond holding the gun out with one hand and shooting with comical precision. Whilst I am sure, to some, it made him seem badass, to me, it looked so lazy instead, like the stakes weren’t high enough and the goons were so, lacklustre in their competence that they simply get shot on the spot.
So many action sequences went by in a blur of boredom, with gunfights ending predictably and in boring fashion. Something about the rhythm, choreography and the way how they were filmed, felt very flat, lacking the usual energy of Richtie’s earlier works.
The few saving graces of this film lie in 2 barely acknowledged departments of film, sound and costume design.
The score is excellent. Composed by Chris Benstead who collaborated with Guy Ritchie on The Gentlemen (2019), this score is brooding and moody in all the right ways, with an excellent remix of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. It elevates the film more than it should, an effect I like to describe of as the “Prequel Score“, in which John William’s incredible score did so much heavy lifting, that the actual film, seen in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, seem a lot more epic than it actually is.
Benstead does the exact same thing, with a lot of scenes, despite how flat and uninteresting they are, elevated in atmosphere by the score. The film has a dark tonality throughout, maintained mostly by Benstead’s excellent work. There is a beautiful cello melody that truly boost the vibe and it should be said that all the scenes I liked the most, was when the score was at its height.
The second element I wanted to praise was the costume design. In what I suspect, is a heavy influence from himself and his famous Victoria Secret Angel wife, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, H’s outfits in the film are fashion-forward and timeless, with a lot of excellent casual wear and beautifully layered outfits that work both casually and formally.
I was struck by the wide breadth of costumes that H employs, from his well tailored shawl collar cardigan, to his loafers, Statham legitimately looked like he picked most of his outfits from his personal wardrobe, and should have every reason to, as he is often short-listed on GQ’s Best Dressed lists for his timeless tailoring and choices.
Perhaps this is an odd thing to praise, but it is not often that I see such a wide variety in looks, tailoring and styles on one character and I thought Statham was particularly dressed well, in comparison to his compatriots.
To sum up, Wrath of Man had me stretching to find positives in a thoroughly underwhelming viewing experience. Its’ key issues lie with a proper focus on the emotional resonance of the protagonists and antagonists actions and lacklustre action sequences that provide nothing unique nor inventive.
I would also like to mention that the set of the security company was used so often, I wondered if COVID-19 affected the filming, schedule and budget, as it seems overly-used for many of the scenes, and thus lent a vague “cheap” vibe to the overall film.
If I had to really sum up, I found this film sadly disappointing, considering I have followed Ritchie’s career for so long and with great pleasure, from his more mediocre fare like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Aladdin (2019) to Sherlock Holmes (2009) and RocknRolla (2008).
It is just sad, that this is probably the worst out of his filmography.
A scene to recall: The only scene where I felt vaguely something and that is because the mixture of blood, bullets and a big fuck-off gun, the G36K is a cool combo.