Chuck Russell’s I Am Wrath is not a good movie, but there is a good movie contained somewhere within, desperately trying to scratch and claw it’s way out. There are moments within I Am Wrath that are a ton of fun, but there are many more moments that are a bummer and fall completely flat.
John Travolta stars as unemployed engineer Stanley Hill, although I only know he’s an unemployed engineer because I read that in the plot synopsis. I don’t recall ever hearing that come up in the movie, but it’s quite possibly it was mentioned and just went over my head. Whatever the case may be, Stanley and his wife Vivian (Rebecca De Mornay) are approached in a parking garage one evening by a man looking for a few bucks. Stanley tells the man he doesn’t have anything and kindly asks that he scram. The man turns out to be a thug named Charley played by street baller turned actor Luis Da Silva and he is quickly joined by two other men. They proceed to beat down Stanley and then murder Vivian, running off with her purse.
Something seems odd with this attack. If Charley and his cronies were just looking to make a few bucks on a mugging, why murder Vivian? That seems completely unnecessary. Charley is fairly quickly taken in by the authorities and Stanley is able to identify him as his wife’s killer. Unfortunately the arresting officer, Detective Gilmore (Sam Trammell), says Stanley’s story changed too much and they can’t accept his ID of Charley.
Stanley is livid and decides to seek revenge for his wife. In the process of doing so he finds some shocking information. His wife murder was odd because it was no random attack. She was targeted based on information she knew of a conspiracy involving a number of criminals, police officers and the governor. This leaves a whole mess of people for Stanley to wipe out.
This basic story is completely fine. It’s not super original or anything like that, but it sets the stage for a solid revenge flick and that’s all we need. Unfortunately the way it plays out is extremely clunky. There’s no flow to the film at all. That could either be an issue with the script or the editing. I’m guessing it’s a little from column A and a little from column B.
The acting is also a real struggle at times. Travolta has some moments that remind me of the actor I love so much, but overall it is certainly not his best day. He, as well as pretty much every member of the cast, seems like he’s unsure of what he wants to do. It’s like 95% of the time he’s going through the motions and then 5% of the time he gives us something that’s at least interesting. Personally I’d just like to see Travolta cut loose in a film like this and go crazy. He’s capable of it and that’s what the film needs.
As far as the bad guys go in this film, they’re all generic or just highly forgettable. There’s no type of character to any of them. Da Silva’s Charley for instance, he’s your prototypical thug through and through. There’s nothing interesting about him. It’s boring and lazy.
The star and saving grace in I Am Wrath is Christopher Meloni. He plays Dennis, an old friend of Stanley’s and that guy who supplies him with weapons and helps him get his revenge. Whenever he’s on screen he commands your attention and makes everyone else on screen with him better. Travolta’s best moments come when he’s playing off Meloni. They offer up a nice buddy cop vibe. Individually, Meloni has the best scene in the film. He’s surrounded by 4 or 5 baddies and you think he’s donezo, but oh no, he’s just getting started! He takes this dudes out with ease in a swift, violent action sequence and does so while dropping a few witty one-liners.
This scene got me thinking about the future of Christopher Meloni. The man is 55 and he’s in an excellent shape. He looks pretty ripped in this film. He has great charisma and can handle intense action scenes. Is there still time to turn Meloni into an action star? I think maybe there is.
Next to Meloni the next highest point in this film is the way it’s shot and it’s location. The film takes place in Columbus, Ohio and a city that I have basically no opinion on. I’ve never been there and don’t know anything about it. I Am Wrath showcases Columbus as a very interesting city. It portrays the city as very dark and gritty, almost like it’s trying to portray a Gotham-esque vibe. And it actually works. The city has these gorgeous buildings with incredible architecture. The Ohio Statehouse looks wonderful. All of these images are captured by Andrzej Sekula, the highly skilled DP known for films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and American Psycho. Sekula does a great job capturing the city of Columbus.
I Am Wrath is out on Blu-ray now from Lionsgate and the Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with Russell and co-writer/co-star Paul Sloan. I haven’t listened to the entire commentary but the first 20 minutes or so are super interesting. Russell talks about how the film had to be edited down and a bunch of the violence removed to try and go for a PG-13 rating (it ended up with R anyway) and Russell is very confused by this because the film is basically a direct-to-home-video release. I was glad to hear Russell bring this up because one of the major issues I had when watching the movie is that I felt like it never went all the way with the violence and in a movie like this, that’s what you want and need. It’s a shame that we won’t get to see the film how Russell originally intended.
Nobody needs to go out of there way to see I Am Wrath. It’s not a great movie and has a really stupid ending. However, if you happen to come across it for whatever reason, I wouldn’t necessarily skip over it. There is some fun to be had here and Meloni is truly wonderful.
I Am Wrath is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Lionsgate.