The Gentlemen 2020 *****

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As a critic, it’s always a surprise when the class clown turns good; Guy Ritchie has so far only troubled this blog in terms of the so-bad-it’s-good file of awful films, where King Arthur: Legend of the Sword sits proudly. Otherwise, there’s little to say about his dated brand of mockney gangster rubbish; Lock Stock and Snatch both had energy and style but haven’t stood the test of time since the Britpop era, while pastiches Rocknrolla and Revolver are beneath contempt. Otherwise, it’s anonymous journeyman stuff like Sherlock Holmes and Aladdin, so a new Guy Ritchie film is simply not an event for me.

Except The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie’s best film by a long chalk. Perhaps the world has caught up with him; gentrification is very much a central theme here, and the flat-cap wearing new aristocrats featured are a far more convincing milieu that the jolly Dickensian street-urchins previously favoured. Crime, and knife-crime in particular, became part of British life as society has stratified along the fissures of class division, and The Gentleman manages to evoke both ghetto-ised council estates and posho country-house crims with some success.

Casting-wise, The Gentleman also sees Ritchie step up a few leagues. Mickey Pearson is the protagonist, attempting to sell off his cannabis-farming operation before it becomes legal under changing British law, and he’s played with genuine verve by Matthew McConaughey. As friends and enemies are drawn to Pearson’s attempted metamorphosis, his right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) finds himself blackmailed by tabloid hack Fletcher (Hugh Grant, no fan of the tabloid himself). Fletcher presents his proposition in the form of a film-screenplay, and this elegant device provides Ritchie with prime real estate in terms of switching the narrative goal-posts in an amusingly meta way. Henry Golding also makes an impression as Dry-Eye, and Colin Farrell brings in 50 shades of Martin McDonagh as a boy’s club mentor with a violent side. These are big name turns, introduced with some neat soundtrack flourishes, and pretty much all of them hit the mark, especially Grant’s funny, funny riff on Pinter-esque threat.

The Gentleman has been derided as Guy-Ritchie-by-numbers, but it’s anything but. For the first time, Ritchie has convincingly evoked several different echelons in the class system, and his ear for vernacular doesn’t let him down. This is a mature, amusing, deftly plotted and politically subversive film that has the narrative nous to have its cake and eat it. There are a few moments where Ritchie pushes the outrageous tone too far, but such gambles can be forgiven when the film just works, and The Gentleman purrs long like a vintage Jag on a crisp, asphalt driveway.

 

 

Papillon 2016 ***

Papillon-FeatureRemakes and reboots are a constant part of our cinematic landscape. There’s no point in being precious about things; if you want to see the 1973 version of this story, then you can find it elsewhere. This 2016 version (released in 2019, it’s been on the shelf for a while) is a remake of the Steve McQueen classic with Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur) in the lead. If you’re remaking Steve McQueen films with Charlie Hunnam in the lead role, you are assuredly onto plums , but actually Papillon isn’t bad at all. Fresh in our minds from his Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek is ideal as Louis Dega, the wily fellow convict of Henri Charriere (Hunnam), bending and breaking under the physical and mental cruelties of life in a French Penal colony in the 1930’s. Some of the dialogue is anachronistic (‘Turn that frown upside down…’ spoken in Paris in 1926 ) and most of the best scenes are lifted straight from the original film, but the core of the material (and the original book) is intact; the human spirit cannot be beaten, and no prison can hold a man who never gives up.