Guy Ritchie

The Gentlemen

01/01/20

When Guy Ritchie first burst onto cinema screens in 1998 with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, his felt like a genuinely fresh voice and, two years later, Snatch served to consolidate his reputation. But his output over the intervening years has not been as assured. (Anybody who had the misfortune to witness his attempt to reinvent King Arthur as a diamond geezer will know where I’m coming from here.) While his recent box office crowd pleaser Aladdin doubtlessly put him back into the black, it could have been directed by just about anybody. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that The Gentlemen is an all too-obvious attempt by Ritchie to return to his glory days. It’s all here, complete with an 18 certificate and enough C bombs for ten films. Take that, Walt Disney!

The lead ‘gentleman’ of the story is Rhodes scholar turned pot dealer, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), who is the top drug baron of the realm. He mingles with the aristocracy, who cheerfully help him to grow his crop, and is rich beyond the dreams of Croesus. But he’s looking to get out and spend quality time with his wife, Roz (Michelle Dockery), so he offers to sell his business to Mathew (Jeremy Strong) for a cool 200 million dollars. As you do. But of course, other ‘gentlemen’ are sniffing around, including Dry Eye (Henry Golding) and, naturally, there are various attempts by various others to muscle in on the deal. On reflection, maybe the film should have been entitled The Scumbags, because there’s nobody here to root for, each successive character as nasty and depraved as the previous one. McConaughey, by the way,  has very little to do here except wander listlessly around in a tuxedo.

The story is related by seedy private eye, Fletcher (Hugh Grant, entertainingly playing against type) to Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s right hand man. Fletcher, it seems, has blackmail on his mind, and has written a ‘screenplay’ about the whole thing. He pitches it to Raymond (and the audience) as if trying to get us on side. A convoluted shaggy dog story ensues…

Sadly, Ritchie’s attempt to get back to his former strengths misfires horribly. Despite a pleasing turn from Grant and another from Colin Farrell as ‘Coach,’ this comes across as one of the most unpleasant and racist films of recent years. ‘I’m an equal opportunities offender,’ boasts one character and sure enough, all the non-caucasian characters in the film – black, Jewish, Asian – are treated with the same insulting, tone-deaf approach. Furthermore, poor Michelle Dockery, who has pretty much the only speaking role for a woman in the entire film, is horribly served, her one scene of any consequence marred by a spurious and gratuitous sexual assault. The main problem, of course, is that Ritchie is doubtless blissfully unaware of these shortcomings, a privileged white man still trying to prove his ‘street’ credentials.

Society has moved on considerably since the 1990s, but Ritchie, it seems, has not. He’s still stuck in that decade. And this is not a promising start to 2020.

Philip Caveney

2.6 stars

Aladdin

27/05/19

Next in line for the Disney-animations-transformed-into-live-action treadmill is Aladdin. What’s most interesting about this one is the fact that it’s helmed by Guy Ritchie, who – after the underperfroming Man Fom Uncle and the frankly disastrous King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – is clearly in dire need of a hit. (Those who, like me, were secretly hoping for a diamond geezer reinterpretation – ‘Aladdin, you slag, get off my turf!’ – are in for a real disappointment here.) Ritchie plays it safe and manages to emerge with a slice of undemanding, but entertaining hokum, which is probably the object of the exercise.

I won’t bore you with a plot description, but the classic tale has always raised some troubling questions for me, not least this one: why can’t the evil sorceror, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), go into the treasure cave to claim the magic lamp himself, rather than sending young street-thief Aladdin (Mena Massoud) to get if for him? But, of course, Aladdin does go in, and unwittingly unleashes the genie, who gives him the opportunity to present himself to Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) as a potential husband – a move from which much hilarity ensues. Will Smith is burdened with the formidable task of attempting to follow Robin Williams’ memorable voiceover performance as The Genie, which, to be fair, he manages with considerable charm.

Jasmine is given a lot more to do than in her previous incarnation, and there’s an obvious female empowerment subplot going on. Even if her most memorable song owes an unspoken debt to Frozen, it nonetheless judges the zeitgeist perfectly, and seems to avoid any obvious cultural blunders.

If ultimately the film rarely dazzles, it’s nonetheless a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. I like this, but I don’t love it – and of course, I’m one of those annoying people who wishes that Disney would stop remaking its old hits and give us something new. You know, just for the novelty of it.

Next up, The Lion King. Ah well…

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

20/05/17

Oh dear. The relatively low key advance publicity for this has already led me to suspect that all might not be well in the King Arthur camp, and now there’s word that it has under-performed badly in the USA, making it Warner Brothers’ most expensive flop in a long time. While it’s very easy to be wise after the event, it’s pretty clear from a single viewing that the film’s major problem is the director’s inability to stick within a chosen genre.

It opens in full Lord of the Rings mode as the evil sorcerer, Mordred (Rob Knighton), launches an all-out attack on Camelot, complete with thousands of troops and several giant battle elephants. It’s clear at a glance where most of the film’s massive budget has been spent. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) uses his magical sword Excalibur to defeat Mordred, but he is unaware that his brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), is in league with the forces of darkness (those constant nosebleeds should have been a dead giveaway). Vortigern kills Uther and his wife, but their infant son Arthur, escapes in a boat and drifts downstream to Londinium, where he is adopted by a prostitute and grows up in a brothel. Next, we are treated to one of those montage sequences that director Guy Ritchie is so fond of, depicting the little boy’s eventful passage to manhood, which naturally involves plenty of bare knuckle fighting; some martial arts training, courtesy of resident king fu expert, George (Tom Wu); and a fondness for making money. Pretty soon the boy has grown up to be Charlie Hunnam and we’re in a different kind of movie altogether.

Now it’s Lock Stock and One Flaming Broadsword as Arthur interacts with his crew, all of whom talk like they’re in a contemporary cockney gangster movie and most of whom rejoice under comedy names – Wet Stick, Back Lack and Mischief John to name but three. At this point, Arthur is a bit of a Dark Ages Arthur Daly, wheeling and dealing with the Viking oppressors and steering well clear of ‘The Blacklegs,’ who are Vortigern’s men. But of course, it’s only a matter of time before Excalibur rears its handsome hilt, when it is discovered protruding from a block of stone. If Vortigern had any sense, he’d have hidden it but instead, desperate to locate his brother’s missing son, he insists that every man in the kingdom must attempt to wield the sword, a ceremony which is presided over by a Blackleg called Trigger (David Beckham, in a mercifully brief cameo). The rest is, of course, legend…

But Ritchie seems incapable of keeping the good ship Excalibur on a steady course. One moment Arthur and his posse are being diamond geezers, the next Vortigern is communing with some slimy creatures from the bottom of an underground pond, and then Arthur is having visions under the influence of ‘The Mage’ (Astrid Berges Frisbey, nabbing what amounts to pretty much the only half-decent role for a woman in the entire film). A scene where Arthur and his gang are planning to sneak into Camelot could have stepped straight out of a contemporary heist movie, and yet, for the finale, we’re back to epic fantasy again as Vortigern takes on the guise of a giant warrior, looking to eliminate his only challenger for the throne of England.

To be fair, the film has a few memorable scenes – there’s a lovely sequence featuring the Lady of the Lake and there’s no doubting the majesty of that opening battle. But overall, this is too scattershot to be convincing. As for Hunnam (last seen as Sir Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z), well, he makes a decent fist of his starring role, but sadly he’s battling more than just his onscreen adversaries in this one.

Ritchie has pitched Legend of the Sword as the first of a four-part series, but judging by this opening salvo, I’m hoping (to paraphrase a line from Love and Death) that he hasn’t already put a down payment on the battlefield.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney