Movie Reviews: In the Heights; The Wrath of Man

Movie Reviews In The Heights
Photo: Warner Bros.

Movie reviews of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit turned film In the Heights and Guy Ritchie reuniting with Jason Statham in The Wrath of Man.

One of the most memorable theater experiences I ever had was watching the 2010 Los Angeles premiere of In the Heights at the Pantages Theatre, with Lin-Manuel Miranda (the show’s author) returning as the lead after a triumphant Broadway run.

It was one of those shows with such an exhilarating first act, that it would be difficult to match it in the second. However, it did (for the most part) manage to sustain this level of infectious energy and good feeling, so needless to say I was excited (and a tad skeptical) that the film version would match the show’s level of both exuberance and emotional depth. And yet, despite a few changes (one centered around the framing device), the film version of In the Heights is a very engaging piece of entertainment. 

If you don’t know the show, it’s a story about family, change, cultural values and tradition; it’s also set in Washington Heights during the onset of a heat wave.

The narrator and lead Usnavi (a winning Anthony Ramos), is a bodega owner (whose shop is a neighborhood mainstay) who has thoughts of returning to the Dominican Republic to revive his father’s business; he also has some serious romantic yearnings for Vanessa (Melissa Bareira), who also wants to leave the Heights—albeit to move downtown and become a fashion designer. His good friend Nina (Leslie Grace) has returned from a first year at Stanford to possibly pick up her relationship with Benny (Corey Hawkins), the dispatcher for the father’s (Jimmy Smits) taxi company. There is also Usnavi’s undocumented younger cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) who is both enterprising and lazy—and possessed of a wisdom beyond his years; the hair salon Ladies (led by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who alas, have to move more uptown (as in the Bronx); and Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), the unofficial matriarch of the community. (Lin-Manuel Miranda is also in the film, as the “Piragua Guy.”) 

The infectious energy of the original show is very much alive Jon M. Chu’s film version, with an opening title number (with choreography by Christopher Scott) that effortlessly combines music, dance, wit and exposition, with the net effect of welcoming the viewer into both a neighborhood and a way of life.

Throughout, the musical numbers have a vitality and edge, whether it’s Nina’s passionate “No me Diga,” or the neighborhood’s fantasies revolving around a winning lottery ticket ($96,000) or the terpsichorean turbulence that results during Usnavi and Vanessa’s night out at “The Club.” And while the old-fashioned Hollywood musical fan in me could have done with fewer cuts, these do not diminish the skill of the dancers and the emotions at the core; there are also some homages to classic musicals like Royal Wedding and the 1930s Busby Berkeley productionsOne may take issue with some of the plot developments and character choices, and there are some longeurs in the telling, but these are just minor caveats. With its engaging group of players (hard to say how it could have been improvements in the casting), its willingness to address both tradition and the inevitability of change (as well as the cost), and its embrace of the family, no matter where they may be found, In the Heights is an irresistible entertainment with something to say in a most agreeable way. It will warm the heart and leave you with a smile—and stick around for that post-credit scene. 

Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen was one of the most entertaining films from 2020 (and perhaps the last time I was in a movie theater pre-pandemic) and he’s trying to get people back into theaters with The Wrath of Man

Movie Review - The Wrath of Man
Movie Review – The Wrath of Man. Photo via Miramax

Here Ritchie reunites with Jason Statham (their first together since 2006’s Revolver) in a grim, unrelenting tale of vengeance (leavened with some welcome dark humor).

Without giving too much away, Statham is determined (albeit terse) Patrick Hill (nicknamed “H”) who is first seen applying to work for an armored truck company. Slowly but surely, the viewer sees that “H” is more than just your ordinary truck driver, possessing a set of skills (and steely reserve) that would make some superheroes envious. It is also quite evident that everything in the film has to do with an opening sequence that the director returns to regularly, each time adding more layers of information. There is also Ritchie’s penchant for well-integrated extended flashbacks and time shifts, some of which knowingly comment and subvert previous actions.

Before the film is over, The Wrath of Man manages to incorporate organized crime, the FBI, para-military organizations, and the burdens of middle-class life into a gritty, suspenseful drama with a few good twists (as well as one or two which shouldn’t surprise you).

The casting works all the way down the line, from Martin Donovan’s platoon leader to Holt McCallany as an affable, experienced guard, to Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) as a volatile confederate of Donovan’s, and Andy Garcia as a cryptic FBI guy. Statham is in top form here, burning through the screen with laser-sharp intensity, and the occasional mordant one-liner. If it doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Gentlemen, The Wrath of Man is still worth exploring, in whatever venue you choose to see it.