I have suggested before that one of the main questions that needs to be asked when a movie jumps around in time is if it would be remotely as interesting told in linear fashion; if moving around in time is meant to hide the fact that the story isn’t particularly good. The case of Guy Ritchie’s new film, “Wrath of Man,” is rather different. This is a movie that would disappointing were it told in linear fashion, but due to its desire to move out of order it becomes far worse. It isn’t just it that’s generic and dull, it’s that the time jumps make the most interesting question about the film, “wait, when is this scene taking place exactly?”
Imagine, if you will, a movie that shows you an armored car robbery before the opening credits. After the credits, it jumps forward slightly in time and introduces the lead character; then leaps to three months later; next, very quickly, it backtracks to five months earlier. Now, if after the backtrack, the movie puts up the statement “three weeks later,” does the subsequent scene take place three weeks after the three months forward or three weeks after the five months backward (which would put it five week before the post opening credits sequence, maybe?)?
Sure, watching things continue to unfold will allow the answer to the above to become clear, but it is still an incredibly jarring way to organize a movie. Throw in some random flashbacks during the movie and things are just made worse.
Inexplicably, at one point “Wrath of Men” also does a major time jump and shifts the POV, without offering any statement about when that segment starts relative to the rest of the movie. Naturally though, the portion of the movie after that opens with a notation of how much we’re moving into the future (again).
The most fortunate thing about utilizing this structure here is that the proceedings are regularly so dull that the viewer can spend almost all their time pondering exactly when a scene is taking place without feeling as though they’re missing much. This is a movie where the lead character disappears for an extended period, where nearly all the secondary characters are generic and interchangeable (it is entirely possible to confuse Bearded Man A who works for one group with Bearded Man B who works for the opposing side), and which can’t even seem to muster enthusiasm for its bloody climax. It is a heist movie with multiple thefts, all of which only seem to only grow in both blandness and implausibility at the same time.
At the center of things is Jason Statham’s Patrick Hill. He is a man with a past who goes to work for an armored car company. We don’t know his past, but he’s obviously lying about what is told of it. The rest of the people at the company are almost uniformly horrific human beings, the sort of guys who would bully someone into alcohol poisoning and laugh it off even when the victim is in the hospital. Why anyone would think we would root/care for them at any point is as big a mystery as anything else.
As we learn more about Hill, we find out he’s working through a tragedy that he helped cause. But, there’s no actual introspection here. There’s no real blaming himself for what happened, there’s only a desire to get even with the other people involved. “Wrath of Man” seems to largely agree with this, as it puts only a minimal amount of blame on Hill, preferring to let him go off and work his revenge plot without the audience having to think about too much (besides when any scene is taking place).
It is not a methodology that works and the normally stoic and intense Statham is practically comatose here. It is entirely understandable for Hill to feel that way at points in the movie, but there’s nothing engrossing about Statham’s representation of that feeling; he’s just a guy saying words without enthusiasm.
Jeffrey Donovan also appears in the film as a bad guy. Perhaps he’s a guy who is worse than Statham’s character, perhaps not. “Wrath of Man” is full of relatively bad and simultaneously entirely lackluster individuals (even the “good guys”), and there’s little reason offered by the film to determine the merit of anyone’s actions. Characters sometimes seem to just exist so that the movie can continue its sluggish movement. Why Rob Delaney appears twice and Andy Garcia pops up a few times is a mystery. Neither character adds a thing to the movie beyond offering the audience an opportunity to say, “wait, was that…,” before they disappear again. They’re just (briefly) present and tell of other directions the movie could head (that might be better) but doesn’t.
In the end, “Wrath of Man” is a dull story told in perplexing fashion. Characters are interchangeable, actions are poorly thought out, and even the moments that ought to be thrilling are more blah than blam. The irregular movements back and forth in time become laughable. It is undeniably true that simply telling the story from start to finish would have made the movie better, but it still wouldn’t have been good. More wrath will be felt from the audience watching the film than anything that appears on screen.
photo credit: MGM