One might hold any opinion they like about Guy Ritchie, the onetime English enfant terrible whose career as a director of feature films is now entering its 23rd year, but I think we can agree at least on this: he has a "thing". He has so much of a "thing", in fact, that he has been able able to apply the basic material of it - sarcastic wiseguy banter, frantic editing and camera movement, a laddish sense of humor - to everything from the gangster comedy-thrillers where it was born to stories about Sherlock Holmes to, in heavily modified form, a branding exercise for Disney.

Wrath of Man isn't exactly not the "thing", but in some was it's the least-typical Ritchie film since 2002's Swept Away (a strong candidate for "least-typical film made by any auteur director in the 21st Century"). This is true even as it leaves fantasy Baghdad and medieval England behind for the tough-guy crime thrillers that have been Ritchie's bread and butter since the very start, while reuniting him with quintessential English working-class action movie brute Jason Statham for the first time since Revolver all the way back in 2005. And Statham also has a "thing" that's being somewhat modified for Wrath of Man, though in his case it's a little more of a back-to-basics situation than a glimpse at the road not taken.

What we have with Wrath of Man is nothing less than the most grave, I would even go so far as to say bleak film about the high cost of violence that I suspect Ritchie is capable of making (he co-wrote the script with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, very freely remaking a 2004 French thriller called Cash Truck). It is, first and foremost, the story of a taciturn slab of meat who mostly goes by the nickname "H" (Statham), who has taken a job as security officer for an armored truck company. Everyone around him - a colorful lot of characters who have basically one personality to split between them, and that personality is "needles H with randomly homophobic jokes", since we're not that far away from the standard Ritchie model; also one of them is a woman - expects nothing of this new guy with a thoroughly average résumé and thoroughly average results from the gun training range, and that lasts up until his very first day out on the job, with his most actively hostile co-worker Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett), the most vividly-named of the colorful lot. On this day, the truck is menaced by some hoodlums, and company policy says that H and Boy Sweat Dave should just flake out and not worry about it. Instead, H whips out his gun and, with otherworldly precision, massacres the would-be robbers.

The question of "what the hell was that about?" is so intrinsic to the way that Wrath of Man structures its extremely kinky* plot, which is designed specifically to dole out facts about H's backstory at the slowest of drips, just enough to keep us little lab rats pushing the lever without getting frustrated, that to explain basically anything feels like it would constitute an unforgivable spoiler to go into any more detail whatsoever. And for what it's worth, this does actually get us a fair way into the movie, which spends its first act very slowly easing us into the world of jerkass truck guards so that H's emergence as something more than just the lackwit beefy guy he appears to be can comes as that much more of a shock. It can at least be said, because it comes as really no surprise at all, that H is in this for revenge and atonement, having been involved in an unspeakable tragedy that has left him with no reason to want to go on living, except to take out the criminals who ruined his life in the flashiest possible way before he goes. The film takes its monumental title very seriously, with Statham approaching H with none of the flippant "what fresh hell is this" attitude of irritated superiority that mostly constitutes his standard screen persona. Instead, H is every bit as wrathful as a film that imposingly declares itself to be about the wrath of Man needs to be; there is only animalistic rage beneath the heavy monosyllabic line deliveries and flat-footed movement through space. It's Statham's best performance since The Bank Job in 2008, which isn't to diminish all of the movie star turns he's had since then, but there's just more meat on these bones than when he's petulantly snorting his way through a Fast & Furious picture.

The ugly, brute sincerity with which Statham approaches the role is generally typical of how Wrath of Man functions as a whole. It's still a Guy Ritchie film, so it still has plenty of razzle-dazzle on hand, mostly in the way the story keeps spiraling around itself. The film opens with an in medias res thriller scene in which two armored truck guards are killed in an apparently accidental ambush, all filmed in a single take from a camera strapped in the back seat looking out the front window, leaving the guards as disembodied voices for the most part. We'll see this sequence at least twice more over the course of the movie, which isn't atypical of the way that the film's narrative revelations keep revising things, nor the way that those revelations often come in the form of flashbacks that we can't readily slot into the film's existing chronology until we've figured out exactly what the revelation just told us. I am maybe just a lazy asshole, but I do think that Wrath of Man would benefit from having at least one or two fewer layers of convoluted back-and-forth-and-back-again chronology; the ultimate story isn't really that complicated (honestly, once all is said and done, we only learn two things about H, really, that we didn't know when we first met him), and one can't shake the feeling that the structure at least somewhat obscures a nasty little crime yarn, rather than gives it energy. And honestly, there are enough whorls in the structure that it could still be respectably hard to follow even if it was easier to follow than what we've got. Because that's yet another one of Ritchie's things.

Still, I would not like to deny the potency of this new darker, more morally blackened Ritchie, which even shows up in some of the razzle-dazzle. That opening long take, for example, isn’t just a look-at-me filmmaking gesture (though it is partially that), but a kind of visual prison that helps give the opening scene a fatalistic feeling, and leave the deaths of those two nameless, facesless guards stripped clean of any sentiment or "cool" factor. We're miles away from this being a serious consideration of the hard personal cost of revenge, or even being a notably unpleasant movie to watch: it is still a film in which Statham is an invulnerable badass doing what has to be done, and viewing physical damage to his person as a comical annoyance rather than an actual danger. It's not a film for people who dislike the Guy Ritchie thing, it's a film for people who feel like the Guy Ritchie thing could be done better than the reflexive and formulaic films that he has been almost exclusively making since 2008 or so. And as one of the latter people, this is the most impressed I've been by anything from this filmmaker since the generation-old Snatch back in the mists of 2000.

*The other kind of kinky.