Running time: 118 minutes. Rated R (violence and language throughout, some sexual references.) In theaters.
Jason Statham is the Baryshnikov of badassery.
In “Wrath of Man,” the actor’s character, called H, breathtakingly kills 10 people like he’s doing a chassé into a glorious grand jeté onstage at Lincoln Center. (Look it up, you rubes.)
H is one of many brusque fellows who work for Fortico, an armored-car company that moves millions of dollars in cash and jewels daily for reputable clients. The drivers all have enjoyably moronic nicknames such as Hollow Bob (Rocci Williams), Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) and Bullet (Holt McCallany). H recently replaced Sticky John. That moniker, thankfully, goes unexplained.
Their banter is an HR nightmare. They call the woman who watches over one bank’s vault Hot Betty, and the bros crack locker room jokes that would send snowflakes into therapy.
But violence, not humor, is king here.
On his first run, H’s car is attacked by a band of robbers looking to steal the dough. Instead of following company guidelines and not going toward danger, H kills every single one with all the effort of licking a postage stamp.
“I’m beginning to think he’s a psychopath,” says one of his comrades at the office. Truth be told, I’m beginning to think I’m a psychopath for how much I enjoyed watching Statham spill gallons of blood and brains all over Los Angeles sidewalks.
However, director Guy Ritchie, whose work is hit and miss, turns the most barbaric carnage into carnival rides. This is Ritchie’s second straight crime film triumph after “The Gentlemen,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Grant.
“Wrath of Man” isn’t as blatantly funny as “The Gentlemen” is, though it has its laughs, but it is taut and exhilarating without a single wasted moment.
Gradually, we learn more about the cagey and mysterious H — where he came from and why he’s working at Fortico when he’s clearly overqualified to be a simple security guard. A shadowy group of villains, including Scott Eastwood, is introduced later and given just as juicy a backstory as the lead. It’s that careful unravelling and attention to detail that lifts “Wrath of Man” above most other shoot’em-ups and revenge films.
The plot builds to an epic grand finale that, I can say without spoiling anything, features a lot more death than it does puppies.
Also: A quick nod to Christopher Benstead’s ominous score. You’re not gonna leave humming it — if you do, you’re weird — but it’s extremely effective in both signaling urban decay and creating smart suspense, not unlike the excellent music in “Joker.”
None of this would work nearly as well without steely Statham, a frequent collaborator of Ritchie’s and one of our best working action stars. What separates the Brit from, say, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is you never truly believe Johnson would kill somebody. Statham, on the other hand, could very well be a paid government assassin who makes Hollywood films in order to hide his true identity. The guy rarely cracks a smile, and when he does, it’s because he did a great job killing a bunch of bad guys.
Beware — and behold — his wrath.