Review – Hell Hath No Fury Like Statham (“Wrath of Man”)

A remake of the 2004 French film Cash Truck, producer/co-writer/director Guy Ritchie takes a holiday and, instead of putting his usual quirky and off-beat spin in filmmaking, decided to take a different approach with this hard-boiled, gritty, and Rashomon-style crime thriller.

Like a jumbled jigsaw puzzle, this non-linear story takes us through several timelines, different people’s POV, and other perspectives. I’ll try and put this into a coherent review, so bear with me as the plot jumps all over the place in this above-average tale of revenge, payback, and stealing $180 million in cash. Like combining the movies Heat, Payback, and Den Of Thieves, we begin with an armored car robbery and reverse-engineer it from there. A mysterious, ordinary stranger named Patrick Hill–but everyone just calls him “H” (Jason Statham)–gets a job as an armored car driver for a prestigious L.A. company.

But after his first hold-up, it’s clear this guy is anything but ordinary, as he takes out six bad guys single-handedly. So, who IS this guy and why is employed in this job? Through alternate stories, we learn Patrick is actually a crime boss of some kind, and unfortunately, through a dreadful mistake on his part, it led to the death of his teenage son, Dougie (Eli Brown), and almost his demise as well. After Patrick recovered, he “scorched the Earth” in trying to find the SOB that killed his son through gruesome torture and murders, but to no avail. He decided to infiltrate the armored car company and work from the inside out.

Meanwhile, as that story is playing out, we have a second one of greed, family, and honor-among-thieves weaving throughout the other. The mastermind is a guy called Sarge (Jeffrey Donovan) who is calling the shots, running his crew through training like a combat mission, that will net them millions in dollars. The only hiccup in their ranks is loose-cannon Jan (Scott Eastwood), who happens to be the dangerous lunatic that Patrick wants to kill. As the movie progresses, both worlds converge in a nail-biting, heart-pounding conclusion as Sarge and his team attempt to steal the unstealable.

Since this is essentially a remake of a French movie, it doesn’t have that Guy Ritchie signature pizzaz you’ve come to expect with his films like RocknRolla, The Man from UNCLE, his two Sherlock Holmes movies, and his recent, The Gentlemen. This is more like Ritchie-lite, with just his standard direction without any of his super-cool, whiz-bang camera work, editing, and stylized dialogue. He also co-wrote the screenplay, along with newbies Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies. Not that I’m knocking this screen adaptation, as I haven’t seen the French version, but it’s been my experience that very few U.S. adaptations of foreign films ever come out right. The Upside, Miss Bala, Downhill, and Cold Pursuit are just some of the examples.

Aside from the standard direction and the irritating soundtrack of low-moaning bass fiddles, the movie does boast some decent acting and incredible action set pieces. Statham, although not kicking serious ass like he did in Hobbs & Shaw, does showcase his low-key acting chops, while his fellow actors are nicely featured along with him. Holt McCallany as the ever-reliable Bullet has more of a character arc than Patrick, as does family man Sarge (Donovan) who is a bad guy you root for. But don’t go for the acting, go for the pure adrenaline rush, the savvy intricacies of how to carry out a robbery, and that pulse-pounding shoot ’em up finale.   

**Now showing only in theaters, which are all open at this point, so enjoy!!***

Payback (1999)

Before Mel Gibson went all cuckoo and made his career-ending decisions, he starred in this damn fine crime drama with a darkly comedic flavor to it. Based on the novel, The Hunter by Donald Westlake, it was made into a 1967 movie with Lee Marvin called Point Blank. This version, adapted by director Brian Helgeland and Terry Hayes, was not without its share of controversy.

Gibson plays Porter (no other name), a gritty, no-nonsense, wise-cracking crook that is betrayed by his estranged heroin-addicted wife, Lynn (Deborah Unger) and S&M loving partner, Val Resnick (Gregg Henry). After they rip-off some Chinese Triad’s, Porter’s gunned down and left for dead, and his share of the haul, $70K, is taken. But he clings to life and, after months of nursing himself back to health, Porter seeks revenge on those who done him wrong. . . and he wants his $70K back, too!

But that’s not gonna easy as the trail gets complicated with others who want to get involved in his affairs, like the weaselly drug dealer, Arthur Stegman (David Paymer), and two crooked detectives, Hicks and Leary (Bill Duke and Jack Conley). They want Porter’s $70K, as well as Resnick’s S&M dominatrix, Pearl (Lucy Liu), and her band of thugs. Porter seeks solace with his only friend, a hooker named Rosie (Maria Bello) and her ugly dog. . . named Porter.

Meanwhile, “The Outfit” (i.e. the crime syndicate) gets a visit from Porter after he kills Val (he still wants his $70K, darn it!), and demands his money from head honcho, Carter (William Devane). Nope? Boom! Carter’s dead! Then Outfit liaison, Fairfax (James Coburn). Nope? Boom! Fairfax’s luggage is shot! Then Rosie and Porter concoct a scheme against big crime boss, Bronson (Kris Kristofferson) and his son, Johnny (Trevor St. John) to get the $70K, but things don’t go exactly as planned. Or do they?

There are two cuts of this movie: theatrical and director’s, and they are quite different. Gibson brought in his pal, Richard Donner, to direct a happier, more upbeat and exciting ending that you see in the theaters, and one based on a Twilight Zone episode called The Jeopardy Room. The director’s cut has no Porter narration, no color tinting, the dog dies (gasp!), and the whole third act is dismal and even has a different villain: Sally Kellerman as the voice of Bronson. I’ve seen both and, for my money, the theatrical holds up better than the director’s cut. Given my choices as to the two endings, I prefer the happy ending over the bleak one. Plus, a tinted movie? That’s way cool! A great script, cast, and just fun to watch Gibson go all medieval and get crazy before he went crazy.

Side note: the unofficial “sequel” to Payback is Get The Gringo (2012). Gibson wrote this straight-to-DVD movie about an American crook named Driver (just Driver–no other name) being thrown into a Mexican prison, and he bears all the attributes of his Porter character. It’s pretty good too, if not formulaic.

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