Revenge movies appeal to us on the most primal level, providing vicarious thrills through a sheen of righteousness that allows us to justify our enjoyment of the violence on display.
Meanwhile, heist films are aimed at our sense of intellect, rousing our minds to solve just how the sleight of hand in question is going to be pulled off, providing a cathartic thrill in sharing in the cleverness played out before it. That these genres are among the most popular comes as no surprise.
Guy Ritchie’s “Wrath of Man” succeeds handsomely in combining them, a brutal film with a narrative that unfolds from the inside out, initially providing hints as to what makes the key players tick and the circumstances that push them, only to double back on the story on two occasions, to fill in the plot gaps and provide alternative perspectives of the events at play.
Ritchie has employed the approach before, yet it never fails to be engaging and exhilarating as this tact inherently generates tension. The filmmaker sustains the suspense masterfully, pushing us to the edge of our seats, plunging us once more into a world of lowlifes and oddballs, though this lot is of the most desperate sort.
The film opens with a botched armored car heist — while the crew that pulls it off gets away with the cash, one of their members kills three innocents in the process. This sequence is presented in a cropped fashion, our view of the events deliberately obscured thanks to Ritchie’s inconveniently positioned, stationary camera.
However, this is an event we return to twice more before all is said and done, its significance growing with each run through.
Weeks go by and the victimized company is in search of new guards. H (Jason Statham) answers the call and is hired, though he barely passes the tests required for him to be qualified.
However, he soon proves to be much more capable than he might let on, taking down six assailants single-handedly when he and his partner are held up.
It becomes apparent that he’s up to much more than guarding other people’s money, and we find out through one of many flashbacks that his son was killed in the film’s opening scene.
Convinced it was an inside job, H has gotten himself hired on to root out the rat from within. However, that would be far too easy and obvious; the screenplay by Nicolas Boukhrief and Eric Besnard contains yet another subplot regarding a group of dissatisfied veterans which further complicates matters.
The story hooks us immediately and never lets go, thanks in large part to its structure and the grotesque characters it contains.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unlikable group as Bullet (Holt McCallany), Dave (Josh Hartnett), Dana (Niamh Algar) and their brethren, crude and vulgar burnouts who care little for themselves and even less for others.
However, much like H, there’s more to them than meets the eye, their actions, especially under pressure, revealing their true natures in surprising ways.
And that really is the secret to the film’s success — it keeps us guessing until its inventive third act in which the heist to end all heists goes horribly awry.
Ritchie’s comeback flick “The Gentlemen” was no less violent but done as a lark, the tongue-in-cheek tone making it all a little easier to take.
To be sure, “Wrath” is vicious, deliberately so, yet it’s a gripping examination of what is wrought when despair and vengeance are the only two things driving a person.
In the end, nothing remains but the victim, victimizing himself.