A mysterious new recruit to a cash security firm soon reveals himself to be there for entirely different reasons.
There’s something rather relaxing about watching a film where so many characters are morally suspect. You can just sit back and enjoy the ride, rather than stress over your favourite dying at the last moment.
In Wrath Of Man (based on a 2004 French film called Cash Truck, which I haven’t seen) Jason Statham plays Patrick Hill, known as H, a mysterious new recruit to a cash collection security firm who initially seems to be both under-skilled and spectacularly under-friendly.
A first run-in with would-be robbers where he demonstrates extraordinary precision shooting soon knocks that first assumption on the head, though he carries on being taciturn and snide, an attitude which both invites investigation and repels it.
We know soon enough (and anyway it’s in the trailer) that he’s avenging his teenage son Dougie, murdered in a hold-up that went wrong; though there’s more to him than grieving father.
Guy Ritchie’s film is compellingly enjoyable and sometimes funny, lightening the po-faced H’s determined, murderous shenanigans. Ritchie keeps us on our toes with jumps back and forth in time, before during and after what happened to Dougie. Heist planning using toy cars cuts into the events themselves. It shakes up what could have been a derivative thriller without making it so convoluted you’re never sure where you are. It brought to mind Den Of Thieves, without that film’s confusions, though for lovers of British soap operas it’s very much John Wick meets Eastenders.
In fact Ritchie and co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies seem to both mock and channel Mr Wick. East Londoner H is relentless and committed, a perfect shooter who can take out several men in succession as they all try in vain to take him down, and bears grudges forever. He is prime for mythologising, and the depot team, reeling from a hold-up which left two of their number dead, likes to do just that: “He once killed a hamster when he squeezed it too hard,” says the bearlike and genial family man Bullet (Holt McCallany) of another driver. It made me laugh but also implies they were already looking for someone to worship and no one turned out to be a dab hand with pencils. As H’s prowess starts to affect events, the other depot drivers become almost puppyish around him.
True, the lines don’t have the classy sparseness of Wick — “Dave, you just worry about putting your arsehole back in your arsehole, leave this to me,” snarls H when they face down their first heist — but it certainly has that safe-hands relentlessness (“unambiguously precise”, an FBI investigator calls H’s shooting skills, despite an entry test that saw him barely scrape the pass mark). During one robbery, his assailants take one look at him and leg it.
The supporting cast is good if often in the background: Dana (Niamh Algar), the lone woman in the driver teams, makes an impact; Terry (Eddie Marsan), the depot manager genuinely cares about everyone; all-bluster driver Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) is less of a presence than I was hoping. Andy Garcia even pops up in a couple of scenes as a slightly dodgy FBI agent. Luxuriantly silver-haired Darrell D’Silva, playing a man from H’s past, looks like George Clooney after the pandemic closed all the barber shops, and I could barely take my eyes off him.
The reveal of those responsible for Dougie’s death is well done, as a group of criminal newbies, emasculated by their post-army lives of unemployment and low-skilled jobs, decide to get into the cash truck robbing business. Those toy cars in their planning, while entirely sensible, also play into the idea of kids in a candy store. They’re meant to be a hard-nosed crew transferring their skills to armed hold-ups, but I wasn’t always entirely convinced, despite their reminiscing about fighting in Afghanistan. Their ex-sergeant boss Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) is a middle class family man who makes the transition to mini crime lord with an ease that just seems too big a leap. Scott Eastwood is, though, suitably hubristic and nervy as the young, impulsive and arrogant team member Jan.
Luckily the film is such a blast, and so engaging (after the pandemic destroyed my attention span, this is always worth an extra star), that really didn’t make much difference. It’s the kind of film you only think about later, if at all.
Statham is near-perfect for this. Sure he speaks in the same low, emotionless intonation at all times — you want someone to tickle him to see if he ever goes above that East London monotone — but even through that chilly exterior the emotion when he’s forced to watch footage of his son’s murder is clear enough. Unfortunately the guilt his character must surely feel over Dougie’s death is never investigated; H might claim his task is 100% revenge but there is surely some projection about his own culpability in there too.
This is a murky world. Bureau agents are happy to leave gangsters to take out gangsters as it makes their lives easier and the city (allegedly) safer; few people really care about anyone but their own actual family; and there’s always someone on the inside willing to betray their unofficial family.
The music alternates between a traditional doom-laden, forewarning thriller score and what I can only describe as a more interesting indifference, which fits the whole ethos of the film — that this will just play out and we can watch without needing to feel invested.
The final multimillion dollar heist, a perfect storm of greed, betrayal and revenge, is well done, with hard-nosed armoury guards fighting to the last, and too-innocent drivers falling like skittles.
Wrath Of Man is in US cinemas now, and will be released in the UK on 23 July.
Read my article on the ending of the film here.
Watch the Wrath Of Man trailer: