Review: Wrath of Man and The Columnist
Guy Ritchie returns (with Jason Statham, wisely) and a Dutch woman discovers the ultimate cure for online menacing.
Guy Ritchie movies, especially those of the gangster variety with which he started out 23 years ago, make life simple. You know what you're going to get walking in: a lot of shouting, a lot of shooting, quite a bit of bleeding—in short, an overload of blunt, brutal action. Not to say there's anything wrong with wall-to-wall uproar—who doesn't love the John Wick movies? But the Wick pictures have a sense of humor—they have personality. Guy Ritchie doesn't make that kind of movie.
Ritchie's latest is a heist picture called Wrath of Man, and the best that can be said of it is that it stars Jason Statham. Ritchie and Statham both began their feature film careers with Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Since then, Statham has gone on to become a stubbly, shiny-domed icon of action cinema, while Ritchie has gone on to continue being Guy Ritchie. (And he's very good at that—almost always delivering for his audience, which is large, and often scoring big at the box office.)
In this fourth Ritchie collaboration, Statham plays "H," a mystery man of very few words (maybe five or six in some scenes, if you count the grunts and snarls). This character's real name is Hill, so let's call him that. One day Hill walks into the office of an armored truck company called Fortico, which hauls multimillions of dollars from banks and high-volume retailers around Los Angeles every day. You can see where this is going.
Hill feigns meager skills in shooting and driving and running around at first, so you immediately know something is up, because…well, because Statham. Hill's fellow Fortico employees are initially surly, but after he single-handedly foils an attempted vehicular rip-off, we see them breaking into applause when he simply enters a room. This happens pretty early on in the picture, because Ritchie likes to move things along even if viewers haven't quite grasped what he's trying to communicate. (A problem compounded here by the muffled dialogue in scenes in which the characters are wearing masks or speaking Australian.)
The plot, which is inherited from a 2004 French film by writer-director Nicolas Boukhrief, has Fortico in the crosshairs of two violent criminal outfits. One is composed of highly trained veterans of the never-ending US war in Afghanistan; the other is just a bunch of really, really bad guys. Statham naturally succeeds in taking down many of these goons, but not in any especially memorable ways. (In his devotion to undifferentiated blam-blam-blam, Ritchie can be a master of monotony.)
Eventually we learn why Statham's character is such an angry guy, and we sympathize. Then we wonder about another Jason Statham we once knew—the one who displayed such a roaring flair for comedy in the 2015 Melissa McCarthy movie Spy. What ever happened to that guy? Is he locked up in Guy Ritchie's basement? Please set him free.
Femke Boot (Katja Herbers of Westworld) is a columnist at an Amsterdam newspaper. Like many people, she spends way too much time online, usually reading over her latest columns—a mix of earnest political observations and wryly sketched personal anecdotes—on the paper's website. Femke may tell herself she's just checking for typos or other technical flaws, but in reality she's breaking the first rule of online life: Never Read the Comments.
But she can't avert her eyes:
Who are these people, and why are they consumed with such frothing hatred? Is it really because she's "gotten fat"? Really?
"What an ugly mug."
"I hope they rough up your daughter."
"I know where you live."
Femke tells a friend about this ongoing assault but gets no sympathy. Since she never went to the police about it, the friend says, "it's obviously not that bad."
So she does go to the police, but they can't figure out what sort of complaint she could file. "It's just the internet," says one cop. "It's not real."
So she decides to take the situation in hand herself. Discovering the identity of one of her tormenters, she pays him a visit—and on a whim pushes him off a roof, to his death. A quiet smile of satisfaction brightens Femke's face, illuminating a way forward.
The Columnist takes aim at an important subject—the vicious online harassment of women and what should be done about it. But despite a sharply satirical performance by Herbers, it never quite comes together—there's too much unnecessary other stuff going on. A subplot about a free speech campaign being waged by Femke's teenage daughter Anna (Claire Porro) never lines up with the main story. Neither do some of the too obvious symbols—a spider in a web, an old-time newsroom copy spike—that director Ivo van Aart has tucked in around the edges of the plot. And the picture's bloody ending hasn't been shaped for maximum impact—it's a little limp.
But one of the characters—a horror author who calls himself "Steven Death" (Bram van der Kelen)—scores a solid hit on the fame industry. For public appearances, Death turns out in sinister eyeliner, with exotic rings on every finger, and an unnecessarily complex ascot. After they appear together on a TV talk show, the veteran fright master tells Femke that lightening up a little could boost her brand. "You were there because you want to change the world," he says. "I was there to sell my new book."
As the movie zips along (it's only 86 minutes long), Herbers deftly makes us see that Femke is falling apart—that she may in fact have lost her mind. After all, killing people—even odious online troglodytes—would be wrong, right?