Wrath of Man

Director Guy Ritchie has managed to entertain me  repeatedly with his blend of hard cases, colorful language, non-linear films. As a matter of fact, my favorite film of the previous year, during which we were locked out of theaters for far too long, was his movie “The Gentlemen“. That film had a star studded cast and a convoluted plot that mixed hipster drug culture with high finance and then threw in a substantial dollop of violence. That is pretty much the Ritchie formula. “Wrath of Man” forgoes many of the tropes of a Ritchie film. As a consequence, it feels a little more generic and definitely not the film I expected.


That’s not to say I was disappointed, this movie largely delivers an action packed, violence leaden crime drama. It eschews the wisecracking criminals, and the absurdist moments that make Ritchie’s other films so unique. The one signature element that is utilized involves the non-sequential story structure. This plays out with a series of flashbacks, repeats from alternative perspectives, flask forwards and time shifting.  That structure however has become it’s own cliché, and it is used not only in films but television programs and commercials, so that freshness, is not going to be a selling point for the movie. 


The main selling point is going to be Jason Statham. If you look up movie tough guys, Statham will show up with the Dwayne Johnson, Lee Marvin, Kurt Russel and a dozen other well known actors who made their bones kicking ass and taking names. He has made more than thirty of these hard action films in the last twenty years and has built a career out of being a badass even among other badasses. So what happens here? Statham gets quiet, skips most of the fisticuffs and shoots the hell out of anything that moves. There was a sequence here where machine guns are used in combat and it was one of the more intense combinations of sound and photography and direction that I have seen. No headbutts or neck snaps or flying kicks, just a lot of sharpshooting and massive spraying of bullets. These kinds of films are not hard to find, Gerard Butler, Sylvester Stallone, Nic Cage are all making two a year these days. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s simply that there is nothing special.

To borrow a description from another movie, every magic trick has three acts,  The Pledge, The Turn, and the Prestige. Ritchie has been great about that last act in all of his English crime dramas. The pieces fall elegantly into place at the end and we are impressed by how well they all fit together and explain what happened. “Wrath of Man” fails to stick “the Prestige”. There are unclear relationships and confusing explanations, which instead of being elegantly detailed at the end, have to be worked out after everything has happened. You will probably be able to make sense of it, but we want the magician to do the trick for us, we don’t want to work it out after dinner two hours later. 


The actors are solid. Statham has that thousand yard stare down pat. Holt McCallany, who I knew from “Mindhunter” is an appealing presence as well.  Jeffrey Donovan shows up late in the movie, dominates all his scenes and should have been a bigger part of the plot. Scott Eastwood’s character will make you angry, which it is supposed to do and you will wonder why Josh Hartnett doesn’t have more to do. This movie will be satisfying for a moment but it is not rewatchable the way so many other Guy Ritchie films are.  There is nothing wrong with it except it is not what I was hoping for. 

The Gentlemen

If ever there was someone who clearly benefited from the rise of independent cinema through the wedge of Quentin Tarantino, it was Guy Ritchie.  His take on English gangsters propelled him into prominence and he has had some great opportunities ever since. Maybe all of his films have not been successes, but after shepherding the live action remake of Aladdin to a worldwide box office of over a billion dollars, his failures will be overlooked for a while. He returns to his natural milieu with “The Gentleman”, a violent comical take on the economics of the marijuana business. It is filled with the sort of off kilter characters that “Snatch”, “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Rocknrolla” also overflowed with. Even though Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham are missing, “The Gentlemen” will take it’s rightful place alongside those rough cut gems.

The cast is chock full of Richie regulars but features some newcomers as well. Co-producer Matthew McConaughey is given star billing and while he earns it, there are several standout performances along the way. Charlie Hunnam, who starred in the Ritchie misfire “King Arthur” is a sturdy second banana to McConaughey’s crime lord.  He is all quiet coiled professionalism, waiting to be provoked into action. Henry Golding who has made a name for himself as a romantic lead in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Last Christmas” gets to play a heavy in this film and he is cynically effective as a self absorbed hoodlum on the make and maybe stretching past his reach too soon.  Eddie Marsan, a veteran of the two Guy Ritche Sherlock Holmes movies, plays a belligerent newspaper publisher. The resolution to his part of the story is one of the images we are fortunately spared from viewing.

It is two big names playing supporting parts that steal this movie and make it so enjoyable to watch. I could have sworn that Colin Farrell was a veteran of the crime films Ritchie made in his early days, but this seems to be their first film together. You know how Tarantino has filled the mouth of Samel L. Jackson with amazing dialogue in their collaborations? while this feels the same way. Farrel delivers the lines that Ritchie has written as if they have worked together for decades. He gets the intonations, relational status and emotional equivalency exactly right. Some things just go together perfectly. So to the list of milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly, and James Bond and Martinis, add Colin Farrell to Guy Ritchie.

As great as Farrell is in his almost tangential role, there is another well established actor who basically steals the film in a wholly unexpected manner. Hugh Grant has been a light romantic comedian for most of his career. As he is aging out of the romantic lead casting, he has found his true niche as a character actor. In “Florence Foster Jenkins” he gave a sympathetic performance backing up Meryl Streep. In “Paddington 2” he delightfully plays the villain and deserved even more awards attention. Unfortunately, this fil gets a January release here in the States and by next December, people will have forgotten how great he is here. Grant plays a investigator/journalist/detective who tries to take what he finds out about the drug kingpin as a way of both blackmailing the gangster and breaking into the movie business. He is also the narrator of the film, who provides exposition, transitions and color to the events being described. Usually Grant has a proper sounding pronunciation and delicate manner of expression, but not his character Dexter. He is a foul mouthed, dirty minded, over confident and smug creature. Visually he is barely recognizable as the world famous actor he is, but vocally and with many mannerisms, you will not know that this is the same guy who wooed Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock and many more.

The dialogues, violence and complicated machinations of the plot are the things that you expect in a Guy Ritchie crime film. The elegant turns of phrase that McConaughey uses as he engages his potential business partners and his enemies is a great example of the screenwriter’s strengths. Hunnam and Farrell with their mild deferential styles contrasted to what we see both are capable of are a plus with the dialogue and the action. Although it seems that the events in the story are spinning out as a series of unplanned obstacles, there is always a way that those moments tie back into the plot, usually in a surprising way.  At least it will be a surprise if you have never seen one of Ritchie’s earlier gangster films. If you have, you know to expect the unexpected, but you will be able afterwards to say, Of course.