Skip to main content

I can do in two weeks what you can only wish to do in twenty years.

Wrath of Man

(SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck, also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman, his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less likely to summon more flamboyant reflexes.

Of course, many signature motifs are nevertheless present and correct. He’s playing about with the timeframe with steroidal glee, which involves retelling key events from different perspectives. The music is typically well tuned, led by an oppressively driving score by Chris Benstead (Ritchie’s go-to for several movies now). And the Stath is back, a Ritchie regular (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver) who took off as an action star thanks to a certain self-consciously gruff charisma (essentially a prized spot Bruce Willis vacated when he decided he wanted to be a serious actor, and with it lost his mojo).

The Stath’s last Ritchie movie was Revolver, which rather infamously bombed as the writer-director attempted to flex a philosophical muscle barely ever used (the Stath was set to be in the subsequent RocknRolla but, you know, scheduling). Not as badly as Swept Away, but at that point in his career, a retreat to the mockney milieu that proved so popular was essential to restart his brand (and from there, Hollywood beckoned). The Stath has done his fair share of serious roles, of course, and it isn’t really his strongest suit, let’s be clear. Here, though, glowering and clobbering people may be absent an all-purpose quip, but he’s more than serviceable in the part.

Ritchie’s impulse towards the unnecessarily pretentious when making a serious work is fortunately confined to the movie’s title and those of a series of acts (A Dark Spirit; Scorched Earth; Bad Animals, Bad; Lungs, Liver, Spleen, Heart), while the structural exertions are, for the most part, successfully tricksy. Never enough to wrong foot you, but sufficient to maintain a sense of intrigue and add dimensionality when the perspective shifts (as it does, several times).

Wrath of Man opens on a robbery involving fatalities. Cut to “H” (the Stath) being employed by the security firm involved, Fortico, and quickly progressing to proving his prowess in the fray; we’re soon apprised H isn’t what he seems – well obviously, he’s the Stath – as the FBI’s involvement (Andy Garcia, customarily unremarkable yet dependable) comes with the instruction to let H do his thing unhindered, despite being a known and wanted felon.

The first flashback (Scorched Earth) reveals H’s history, whereby his involvement in the robbery resulted in the death of his son Dougie (Eli Brown); H vows vengeance on the perpetrator(s), meeting with Garcia and promising results (“Just be mindful that I can only look confused for so long” comes the reply). The second (Bad Animals, Bad) introduces the gang behind the robbery, veterans including Jeffrey Donovan (as the leader, rather than the psycho) and Scott Eastwood (as the psycho, so marginally more memorable than he usually is). After this, there’s the final act showdown (Lungs, Liver, Spleen, Heart), as the gang enact a heist of the Fortico depot.

As soon as the plot reveals there’s an inside man at Fortico, the most obvious suspect is Holt McCallany’s agreeable, chatty guard Bullet. Of course, there’s a possibility it’s the company’s manager Eddie Marsan, the only cast member with a strong facility for chewing scenery yet consigned to a buttoned-down bureaucratic part (as such, he’s legitimately a red herring). One might also have gone for Josh Hartnett’s “Boy Sweat” Dave, but we’ve already seen he has no bottle. It seems foolhardy to attempt to reinvent Josh Hartnett, but Ritchie has evidently set himself the challenge, since he’s also in his next, Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre. This will be Ritchie in his old producer’s spy movie territory; I’m betting that isn’t the final title either. Ritchie’s spy remake The Men from U.N.C.L.E. flopped, but it was pretty good fun for the most part, while Vaughn is currently switching from his Kingsman franchise to Argylle for Apple.

When your movie has Jeffrey Donovan playing reasonable and Scott Eastwood playing loose cannon, it makes it very obvious that Ritchie is reining things in on the performance front. Darrell D’Silva makes an impression, though, as H’s increasingly troubled – at the extremes H is going to in order to get revenge – right-hand man Mike. The action is everything you’d expect from a Ritchie movie, confident and propulsive, even if there are one or two fonts of very obvious digital blood (de rigueur now, and likely to be even more so in the future, along with whatever other additional consequences arise from the latest Hollywood on-set fatality; rumours already abound regarding whatever occult import the incident may carry. It would be wilful blindness to rule anything out, particularly when you have such a perfectly posed banner pic of an overcome Alec).

Wrath of God might also be considered suggestive in several thematic areas. Ostensibly, all there is to this is a standard-issue revenger, one based on a decade-and-a-half old French property (in that one, the protagonist doesn’t walk away, however). Here, the villains are all veterans (nursing stock grievances: “The Afghans treated us better than our own”). The trail to their door also involves areas one might single out as Elite favourites – porn, human trafficking, witchcraft – and we all know Guy’s ex was their leading media figurehead (hence that programming-loaded Eurovision performance). Lest we assume Ritchie is casting himself as H in an act of atonement, we should note his son is apparently slaughtered for denying Greta Thunberg minutes before (“Climate change is a natural phenomenon” Dougie informs a sceptical dad).

Wrath of Man did decent business (just less than a quarter of it in China), so Ritchie seems to have successfully banished the failure of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword with his cash-grab live-action Disney Aladdin (not always a sure thing, of course: see Dumbo). Wrath of Man is no The Gentleman, easily the most sure-footed escapade in the director’s larky wide-boy milieu, but it’s a more than proficient genre offering. The only caveat on his and the Stath’s next movie is that his lead actor is playing Orson Fortune, when what we all want from spy Stath is that Rick Ford movie.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.