It’s Worth Spending a Couple of Stylish, Silly Hours with ‘The Gentlemen’ of Guy Richie

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CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Drug Dealing, Gunfire Blood Splatter, and a Bit of Poison

Release Date: January 24, 2020

The Gentlemen is basically the Guy Ritchie-fied version of a John le Carré story. Instead of a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed spies and other government associates double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other, we have here a labyrinthine plot about nattily dressed drug dealers and dirt diggers double-, triple-, and quadruple-crossing each other. Also as with the typical Le Carré, The Gentlemen requires a diagram to make sense of everything that happens and how everyone relates to each other. But on a scene-by-scene basis, it is clear (or at least clear enough to be entertaining) where everyone’s motivations lie and who’s trying to pull the upper hand on whom.

CREDIT: Christopher Raphael

While watching The Gentlemen, I had similar feelings that I do when watching my favorite sports teams pull off successful big play after big play, with nary an error or defensive blunder the whole time. It is not always clear who to root for in these ensemble-driven crime-business action flicks, nor it is always preferable. But in this case, knowing that Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) are the (relative) moral paragons is a big help. The fact that Mickey peddles cannabis instead of, say, heroin and does so proudly because his product doesn’t kill his customers, allows us to orient ourselves toward some clarity in a movie that is otherwise often quite cacophonous.

And Hugh Grant’s presence as a private investigator who is just dying to get the big scoop on everybody (and also not die in the process) lets us know that it’s a good idea to laugh. There’s plenty of silliness otherwise to prompt the chuckles, but Grant is the crux that assures us of the light-footed, devilishly good time we ought to be having. It’s always a delight to see him so immersed in this sort of gleefulness. Even the meta twist that he pulls off at the end somehow feels so right when in lesser hands it could have undermined the whole tone. Instead, The Gentlemen is a stylish romp that will have you going, “The good-ish guys won.”

The Gentlemen is Recommended If: You’ve always wondered what it would be like if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy merged with Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln commercials and added a dash of Hugh Grant in Paddington 2 Mode

Grade: 3 out of 5 Turtleneck Sweaters

This Is a Movie Review: Guy Ritchie Adds Some Cockney Flair to Camelot with ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Erica Bana

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stab Wounds That Seem to Only Happen During Thunderstorms

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The King Arthur legend has been told and re-told countless times over the centuries. On film, it has been fantastical, animated, “realistic,” romantic, and explicit. Could Guy Ritchie, that purveyor of stylish British gangsters, possibly have anything new to add to the mythos? Based on Legend of the Sword, the answer is: apparently there were options that we were never even considering.

The bare bones of the plot of this edition play up the similarities between Arthurian legend and the biblical tale of Moses. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) places his infant son Arthur in a basket in a river to escape the grasp of his power-mad brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who murders Uther to ascend to the throne. Arthur then grows up in a brothel to become Charlie Hunnam, and he promptly draws the sword Excalibur from the stone. So far, so sticking to the script. The rest of it, however, is Ritchie’s unique vision – surprisingly fascinating, intermittently satisfying.

With phrases like “honey tits” and nicknames like “Kung Fu George,” this is basically the cockney version of Camelot. The archaic aesthetic is not committed to fully, though, but that oddly leads me to somewhat admire Ritchie’s restraint. There is, however, complete commitment to editing the film like a heist caper, rendering the future Knights of the Round Table a sort of Pendragon’s Eleven. The plan to topple Vortigern is not exactly a matter of trickery (at least no more so than any rebellious maneuver is), but I guess you have to get your kicks in somewhere. Legend of the Sword leaves its most lasting stamp in its fetish for oversized, foreboding animals. They are not quite as visionary as the eels in A Cure for Wellness, say, and I have no idea what purpose they serve (beyond the maxim “critters accompany magic”), but I have to give some props to a summer blockbuster with such strange, gooey visuals.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is Recommended If You Like: Slimy, Scaly Creatures

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Mages

This Is a Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland

Director: James Gray

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Bow and Arrow Violence, and Occasional Gunfire

Release Date: April 14, 2017 (Limited)

The Lost City of Z tells the story of a liberal-minded man’s dilemma. During Percival Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) early 20th century explorations to South America, he becomes convinced of the existence of a mythical city deep within the jungles of the Amazon. His patrons back in England scoff at the idea, both because it is unrealistic but also because they are European white men who believe that their way of doing civilization is the only right way. Fawcett positions himself as an open-minded paragon who recognizes that the native peoples are not savages but in fact have plenty of value to offer the rest of the world. This is not posture. He genuinely believes all that he says – and Hunnam imbues every declaration with the urgency of the end of days – but idealizing a foreign culture introduces its own problems.

Fawcett does not fetishize the Amazonian peoples, but his single-mindedness can be blinding. The film’s structure is partly like that of a Möbius strip, with the end of each South American expedition only serving as a prologue to the next one. Supplies are depleted and conflicts break out within his crew, and then re-stocking and reconciling takes years. And you feel that passage of time, but Fawcett simply must get back. The strain is borne most acutely by his family, especially his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), who pleads to join one of the expeditions. The Fawcetts pride themselves on their equality, but here Percival marks a limit: they are intellectual, but not physical, equals.

Ultimately, this film is a detailed and heavy examination of the dangers of obsession. It turns out (spoiler alert) that Fawcett’s instincts are right, but that vindication is saved for an epilogue. The climax involves Fawcett and his eldest son (Tom Holland) entering the most nightmarish of the expeditions. For the most part, The Lost City of Z avoids mysticism in favor of realism. The cinematography generally focuses on weary faces instead of natural wonders. Thus, this journey is not transcendent until it starts becoming hellish.

The Lost City of Z is Recommended If You Like: Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, Impassioned Speeches to Fusty Government Types

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Men Overboard