Movie Review: ‘Wrath of Man’ – Be a Psychopath, or Maybe Don’t?
Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man is like a Tarantino movie that takes itself more seriously. It uses some of Tarantino’s favorite elements from the 1960s and 70s, a non-linear story separated into ominously titled chapters, idiosyncratic dialogue, a protagonist seeking bloody revenge, but it places them in a more grounded aesthetic of a modern crime-action thriller. The movie still maintains a strong aura of something from a previous decade (in a good way), from its characters’ semi-exaggerated banter to its portrayal of Los Angeles as a seedy, omni-violent gotham reminiscent of Dirty Harry’s San Francisco or Taxi Driver’s Manhattan.
This is Guy Ritchie’s twelfth time in the director’s chair, and he successfully executes this union of the grounded and contemporary with the stylistic and retro while delivering an enthralling, well-crafted story that offers some interesting themes.
The main character, H (Jason Statham) takes a job driving armored trucks in a city where brutal, cunning gangs frequently rob them of their valuable cargo. When he takes down a machine gun-wielding squad of these robbers with a cool glance and expert marksmanship, he gains the admiration of his co-workers, but it becomes clear there’s something else going on. The script slowly reveals H’s mysterious motivation and continues to build tension up to a blood-soaked climax. Despite the plot’s multiple time jumps, it’s not confusing to the audience; the script puts the pieces in place to effectively build the story.
Wrath of Man also benefits from cinematography that is artful, but not flashy, and its’ soundtrack creates suspense bordering on dread.
But the most interesting aspect of the movie is its main character, whose stoic nature makes him tougher than his enemies, but whose actions are revealed as increasingly dark as the film progresses. It’s ambiguous whether the audience should condemn H or consider him an admirable anti-hero. Without spoiling too much, Wrath of Man’s message boils down to “Be a psychopath … or maybe don’t?”
As fits his mono-letter moniker, H is a man of few words. When his new co-workers try to rile him up, he remains unfazed much to their chagrin. When his sniveling supervisor, Terry (Eddy Marsan), has to look away from footage of the deadly heist that served as the film’s opening scene, H stares at it emotionless, even though he has a personal connection to the event. When his coworker Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) freaks out during a truck heist, H is calm under fire, unafraid, and unfazed by injury.
This composure is typical of action-movie protagonists from James Bond to Mad Max: Fury Road, and admirable to those who believe individuals should control their emotions and impulses, as is recommended by philosophies ranging from Buddhism to stoicism.
But the movie raises the question: Does H’s unflinching nature go too far? When H is perfectly composed after gunning down the robbers, Terry says, “I think he might be a psychopath.” And he’s kind of right.
When we see H shoot a disarmed criminal (Post Malone) in cold blood, we think “Well, that’s just this movie’s Dirty Harry gray morality. Homo homini lupus.” We justify actions taken by movie protagonists that we wouldn’t excuse in real life.
“When we suspend disbelief, we also suspend adherence to the conventions and legalisms of the outside world,” Jonah Goldberg wrote in Suicide of the West. “Instead, we use the more primitive parts of our brains, which understand right and wrong as questions of ‘us’ and ‘them.’”
But as we see H interrogate and shoot at his female coworker (Niamh Algar), threaten to torture a man’s wife, and so on, we learn the true extent of his ruthlessness.
But his psychopathy is what allows him to accomplish his goals, in contrast to the impulsive antagonist, Jan (Scott Eastwood). From the perspective of someone like H, who doesn’t care about moral complications,, shouldn’t the ends justify the means? Is Wrath of Man’s protagonist a portrayal of an Übermensch, Friedrich Nietzsche’s nihilistic ideal of a man unconstrained by external values? Nietzsche’s Übermensch, though often misinterpreted as a selfish psychopath, actually refers to someone who is capable of evil actions, but is strong enough to resist the temptation. H doesn’t fit this description.
H’s involvement in a bloody line of work caused the personal loss that incited his Wrath, and its suggested that he feels guilt for that. So, his actions are not completely without consequences.
In politics, business, and in our personal lives, people are tempted by the desire to treat individuals as means to ends. But though this pragmatism may be expedient in the short term, it does not come without negative results.
In a year that has been sufficiently strange for movies, Wrath of Man is worth the watch. Here are more stats about the movie:
Rating: 4/5 stars
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 118 minutes.