Wednesday, 8 January 2020

The Gentlemen (2020) - Movie Review

I’ve been ragging on Guy Ritchie as a filmmaker for a few years now, and I feel the need to clear some things up. For as much as I’ve taken issue with his more recent efforts, I don’t want to come across like my objections are coming from some knee-jerk “how dare he try and do something different” shit. Rather, I keep pointing this out because I’ve seen enough of Ritchie’s work to know where his strengths lie. He’s a Brit-crime storyteller, and a damn effective one when he plays to what he does best. But as soon as he reaches for something bigger, his limitations present themselves.

Whether it’s coating his usual style in philosophical wankery like with Revolver, adapting classic stories that clash with his sensibilities like with King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, or just plain doing what he should know by now isn’t his strong suit like with Aladdin. I bring all this up because I want to see Ritchie deliver satisfying cinema again, and it’s why I’m very happy with his latest.

Going back to his Lock Stock/Snatch basics, this is Ritchie in his comfort zone: A winding, mildly convoluted and crisp crime narrative with numerous character perspectives, abrasive humour and copious violence for those who like a little platelet in their lager. With him not trying to aim for larger commentary, the crudeness and verbosity of his writing only has to stick the landing in making the characters feel alive, and while his scripting definitely aids in that, the cast here ain’t half bad either.

Tapping into his preternatural instincts for seeing the inner hard bastard in a given actor, the casting is genuinely impressive in how well everyone fits. Matthew McConaughey as the resident weed baron (a take that would feel embarrassingly outdated, if it didn’t take the modern state of weed legalisation into account), Jeremy Strong as his prim potential business partner, Colin Farrell as an Irish boxing coach; solid fits, unsurprisingly. But when it gets into Charlie Hunnam as the intimidating right-hand man for McConaughey, Henry Golding as a rival gangster, and Hugh Grant as the perfect blend of Brit-hard and delicious camp, it really sinks in that these guys aren’t fucking around.

And on that last note of Hugh Grant, his central place in the production ends up highlighting what Guy Ritchie is ultimately attempting with all this. Rather than trying to completely reinvent the wheel on his trademark style, he instead goes for added refinement, adaptation for a new era and, most shockingly, his place within that genre. The bulk of the story is told through the perspective of Grant’s Fletcher, whose commentary is peppered with the need for action in his storytelling and even quips about how it would all look as a movie.

He is basically a thinly-veiled and decidedly camper version of Ritchie himself, right down to the potential to nod to one of his earliest collaborators Dexter Fletcher with the naming. It ends up solidifying his entire aesthetic: He is the one taking all these different perspectives and sliding them together into a singular story, spinning yarns about the seedier side of his home country. It’s not just a reaffirmation of what made his career so damn promising at the start, it’s also a moment where Ritchie himself seems to have come to terms with it.

I’m all for ambitious filmmakers, but if there’s one thing that I learnt over the course of 2019, it’s that ambition means fuck-all without the skill to pull it off. I’d rather see a simple idea done well than a complex idea done badly, and because of that, I hold no hesitation in calling this a triumphant return to form for Guy Ritchie.

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