Look, I was one of the many delighted by the one-two punch of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch from director Guy Ritchie. They were brash. They were fun. They had tremendous energy. The latter featured a truly bizarre and enchanting performance from Brad Pitt. However, Snatch came out twenty years ago now. Since then, the career of Mr. Ritchie truly baffles me. The last decade for him has been filled with adaptations of popular stories, from a couple of mediocre Sherlock Holmes films to a live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin. Yeah, the British gangster guy made Aladdin. Why? I mean, a nice paycheck, obviously. But what drives his decisions? Whenever he implements a Ritchie-ism into one of these films, they undoubtedly feel out of place and make for completely unremarkable films. Those first two films still remain the peak of his directing career, and his latest, The Gentlemen, returns him to that milieu.
Except this isn’t the first time he has come back. Remember RocknRolla? I didn’t think so. It’s not terrible per se, but it does lack the excitement of those first two films. It was a director trying to get back to his roots without the same verve he had back then. It was a copy. The Gentlemen, consequently, is a copy of a copy, a film so desperate to recapture the spirit of vintage Ritchie without any of the style, panache, or humor required to do that.
Framed around a conversation between second-in-command gangster Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) and private snoop Fletcher (Hugh Grant), the story follows marijuana magnate Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) trying to get out of the game by selling his massive operation to American businessman Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), as Mickey’s shady past will not cut it when marijuana inevitably becomes legal in Britain. Meanwhile, the son of a rival drug lord (Henry Golding) wants in on Mickey’s game, though Mickey has no interest in dealing with another illegitimate person, especially one who deals in heroin. Fletcher unfolds the story to Raymond as if he is pitching a film. He’s even written the screenplay for it.
The structure of The Gentlemen should have been a feast for Guy Ritchie to play around. Jumping back and forth between stories, replaying the same scenarios multiple ways depending on how Fletcher wants to dramatize a scene for the film. Ritchie could have gone hog-wild in the editing room, splicing together all the pieces with a relentless energy. Instead, the film plays out with the same urgency of the very irritating person in front of you at a drive-thru window who doesn’t know what to order. That would be fine had the script not been crying out for some zip, bang, boom. A fun ride should not trudge along.
It does not help that our central figure Mickey Pearson is played by Matthew McConaughey. For one, McConaughey’s look in the film totally clashes with the kind of character he is playing. Mickey Pearson is a man who has climbed the economic latter and wants to fit in with the aristocracy. His clothing certainly reflects that, but his face most certainly does not. McConaughey looks as if he has dunked his head in the ocean prior to every take and has not washed his hair in about three months. For facial hair, he sticks with totally unkempt scruff, rather than committing to anything sort of traditionally presentable. And in terms of pure performance, his idea of suave is apparently exactly what he does in all of those Lincoln commercials. Most insultingly, his character claims he does not smoke marijuana, which is about the least believable thing McConaughey has ever said in his entire life. Ritchie wanted someone “cool” for the part of Mickey Pearson, but what makes a Ritchie character cool and what makes McConaughey cool do not mesh at all.
A couple members of the ensemble try to make the most of their material. Hugh Grant clearly loves playing this Cockney, egotistical snoop. Even with exceptionally poor comedic material to work with, he manages a couple of decent laughs out of sheer personality and timing. Michelle Dockery plays McConaughey’s wife and is kind of the only character you have any respect for. Unsurprisingly for Ritchie, she is the one woman in the cast and horribly written (one thing happens to her in the film that is truly unnecessary). Like Grant, all the goodwill for her is completely on the shoulders of Dockery. Quite frankly, I am just glad she has a part in a fairly high profile film post-Downton Abbey. She’s a totally winning screen presence, and I hope more for her. The rest of the cast makes little to no impression. Even Colin Farrell as a guy who walks around in plaid sweatsuits who trains young men to fight exceptionally well barely registers with any kind of fun.
And I know quite a bit of the reaction to this film will center on its rather regressive ideas of jokes and ideas. Totally fair. There’s a lot of dumb race-based material in the film, which for me would come off as offensive had they not been so tired and half-hearted. Instead, it feels like z-grade Martin McDonagh by someone who doesn’t get why McDonagh has that kind of humor in his pieces. By including jokey slurs, Ritchie just wants to come off as edgy and cutting edge. The opposite is true: hackneyed and lame.
To use the word again, lame best describes The Gentlemen. The film wants so badly to be this throwback Guy Ritchie picture and recapture when he was the brash new voice on the scene. But he’s not anymore. He just made Aladdin. His world no longer intersects with the one he started with, and nothing about The Gentlemen comes from a genuine place. Ritchie’s best film since Snatch was the truly charming The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (which gets an explicit shoutout in this film), and why that film succeeded is instead of finding the cool in the street level gangster, he found cool in sleekness. So much of Ritchie’s work now is totally polished, and that film’s idea of what is cool fits that style perfectly. The Gentlemen exists between the two worlds, a void from which Guy Ritchie needs to escape.
Categories: New Releases