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The Gentlemen: Has Guy Ritchie has lost sight of what he's good at?

 

THE GENTLEMEN
directed by Guy Ritchie

The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrel director's latest is a star-studded but derivative return to the London underworld.

There was a time when you would feel excited about a new Guy Ritchie movie. Best known for his astonishing 1998 breakout feature Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the writer-director went on to be crowned king of Britpop cinema and marry the Queen of Pop, Madonna.

As can happen to bright young things, Ritchie’s difficult second (third, fourth …) films were less well received, until he found his footing again when Hollywood reinvigorated Sherlock Holmes yet again, by hiring him to direct Robert Downey Jr, and then gave Ritchie another chance at a reboot with 2015’s highly enjoyable The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He then squandered that goodwill with pointless Arthurian retread King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and a forgettable live-action version of Disney’s Aladdin.

Now Ritchie is back in London town and the greasy world of drug dealing with The Gentlemen. The cast includes an ageing Hugh Grant (overacting but having a blast), Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding (trying too hard to break typecasting) and Matthew McConaughey, who adds an awkward transatlantic flavour with a dodgy accent and an unconvincing backstory about being a brilliant expatriate drug lord who attended Oxford.

The convoluted story of who’s trying to rip off who is spelt out by the most unreliable of narrators – Grant’s sleazy private investigator, Fletcher, whose camp overtures to fixer Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) bring out the film-maker’s less-than-PC attitudes. Along the way, we are subjected to flashbacks and flashforwards but few flashes of brilliance.

Instead, there are endless shots of a tweed-suited McConaughey drinking tea and banging on about “gentrification”. The only bright moments involve a tracksuited Colin Farrell as a surprisingly principled boxing coach and watching Downton’s Lady Mary, Michelle Dockery, reverting to her native Essex accent after years spent playing it posh.

The problem is, Ritchie seems to have lost sight of what he was good at and is now trying to be other people. The film’s opening credits evoke James Bond, and the script’s incessant in-jokes and film-school lessons feel simply Tarantino 101. Among the many bits Ritchie has nicked from better movies, Grant attempts to do a Ben Kingsley from the incomparable British gangster flick Sexy Beast.

Most egregiously, the lingo is all homophobic slurs, “Chinaman”-type racism and incessant use of the c-word. Ritchie’s screenplay laughs in the face of the “show, don’t tell” maxim and when a character asks, “Why are you wasting our time?”, you wonder the same thing.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★1/2

Video: Roadshow Films NZ

This article was first published in the January 11, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.