Sunday, 5 January 2020

Review: The Gentlemen (second-pass)

The Gentlemen
(second-pass / spoilers)
Cert: 18 / 113 mins / Dir. Guy Ritchie / Trailer

Ah, that's better. Ever one for a convoluted yarn which becomes clearer with repetition, Guy Ritchie plays true to form and a second viewing of The Gentlemen is a much more jaunty ride. The web is tighter, the violence is weightier and the bad language is every bid as gloriously, needlessly lurid as it was the first time. I'm not saying that any cinematic reveals appear miraculously or that the score gets notched up for a second-pass, but this is definitely now a movie I can envision enjoying with regularity (and with alcohol) in years to come.

Is The Gentlemen Ritchie's best work to date? It is not. Does it show him developing his style as a filmmaker and using old tools to new effect? It does not. But is the film worthy of shelf-space with Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and RockRolla? Most certainly. And is The Gentlemen the fourth part of a spiritual tetralogy with these earlier films? Well not quite...


The Gentlemen is never as grimy as its predecessors. And that's fine because like Guy, we're moving in a different world, now. We don't see the sex-shop-magnate's office, the East End pawn shop or spend too much time in a dingy crack-den. All of our players here have money and power from the off, they're just squabbling over each others. There's no real chase, just a fight for survival. There's no MacGuffin.

Now. The MacGuffin (alternately McGuffin or Maguffin) is a plot device, usually an object or person, which draws the tale's disparate characters together. It's the thing which everybody's after, which would solve all their problems if it fell into their possession, despite usually being the source of those problems at the same time. Whether it's the The One Ring, the Death Star Plans or Doug from The Hangover, the MacGuffin is a classic storytelling device, and for good reason.

What's more, Mr Guy Ritchie is no stranger to this. Each of his three previous geezer-flicks have had their characters racing around London after treasured items. In Lock, Stock it was a pair of antique shotguns, Snatch boasted a huge diamond, and in RocknRolla the object of everyone's affections was Uri Omovich's lucky painting. All of these are old-school artefacts, still sought after as hard currency by the modern criminal businessman, very much a window into Ritchie's psyche at those points.


In 2020 however, Mickey, Matthew, Fletcher and Dry Eye forego these trinkets. We open with a pivotal feint, then a legthy establishing scene in a kitchen-diner that's worthy of a stage-production. The introduction of Fletcher's screenplay brings us kicking and screaming into the ethos of cinema and a catchup/flashback for the first two acts, structuring the story that way instead. Along with Charlie Hunnam's Ray, we're listening to a shaggy-dog story rather than chasing the dog itself (another of Guy's earlier MacGuffins).

There's the small matter of a van-full of stolen weed, not to mention the missing child of a wealthy family who's fallen into a pit of substance-abuse, but these are red herrings. Both have appeared in earlier movies by the writer/director, and serve here only as tonal callbacks. Potentially, Mickey Pearson's dozen underground farming outlets are the MacGuffin - they're certainly the prize being vied for by Matthew Berger and Dry Eye - but since actual control of these is never wrested from Mickey, they're more of a narrative finish-line. And it's the absence of this panic, this pursuit, this race against the clock which hobbles Ritchie's latest offering as a very good movie, rather than a truly great one.

The MacGuffin is by no means essential to a great screenplay, but it's a solid start. You'd think an aspiring screenwriter like Fletcher would know that, and you'd expect it from Ritchie. I am loving the ride of The Gentlemen, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the chase...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Ritchie's earlier geezer-features, if you took out anything which could be hidden in the back of a van...

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're a fan of Ritchie's gangster-oeuvre, yes.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
As above.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, it is not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
With the best will in the world, we very well might.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There bloody isn't, but there are two boot shots.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That weapons check enforcer dude is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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