The Gentlemen 2020 *****

the-gentlemen-poster-600x889-1

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.

 

 

The Untouchables 1987 *****

The-Untouchables-LB-1

Sequel and prequels (Capone Rising) have come to nothing; Brian De Palma’s 1987 gangster opus remains one of the best examples of reworking a hit tv show on an epic scale. There’s an operatic sweep to the story of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner), the FBI-enforcer who sets out to bring down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) with the help of an old Chicago cop (Sean Connery). Also a couple of the effects now show their age, and the film’s budgetary concerns are visible, The Untouchables has one great scene after another; the store bombing, the first border raid and it’s bloody aftermath, the baseball scene, the railway-station shoot out, the show-down with Frank Nitti (the late, great Billy Drago). Costner fits his white-collar character like a glove, and Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia make ideal support. David Mamet’s script also crackles with great dialogue, and De Palma’s sweeping camera and desire to entertain made The Untouchables an instant classic.

Jane Austen’s Mafia! 1998 ***

mafia

Writer/director Jim Abrahams was part of the team behind Airplane, Naked Gun and Hot Shots; the tide had turned against spoofs by 1998, and Mafia! was one of the last gasps of the genre. It’s an un-called for Godfather spoof, twenty years too late perhaps, but still with a few lively moments to commend it. Jay Mohr is actually pretty good in the Al Pacino role, the prodigal son returning to the deadly games of his family, with Lloyd Bridges at the Brando-style patriarch. The film is dedicated to the star, who appears frail here, yet still typically game for the indignities low-brow comedy. There are plenty of lame gags, but Mafia! is at its best when tacking the seriousness of gangster films; a rapid-fire list of ridiculous underworld names at a wedding, or an accidental shooting of a man disguised as a tree. The best of the gags are well worked; if you’ve watched all the classic ZAZ brothers comedies once too many, there’s plenty of good reasons to search this later entry out.

Keanu 2016 ****

keanu_redbandtrailer1Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have been such a boon to comedy through their Comedy Central work, it’s easy to see why a feature film would be a no brainer. And while it doesn’t have the punch of some of their sketches, Keanu is one of 2016’s best comedies, pitting two mild-mannered, middle class dorks into a gangster world which they unexpectedly take to. Their mission is to track down the missing moggy of the title, running into Method Man as a gangster and Anna Faris as herself along the way. A few sequences jump out, like the one in which Rell and Clarence attempt to teach a crew of aspiring gangsters how to act on the street, and there’s some commendable verve in the tension generated as the friends get over their depth. Ultimately, the two-guys-who-look-like-tow gangsters motifs is an ancient one which Key and Peele manage to blow some life into, and bodes well for future cinematic escapades.

Black Mass 2015 ***

johnny-depp-in-black-mass

Johnny Depp managed to briefly put his finger in the dam of recent bad publicity by pulling off a surprisingly sinister performance as gangster Whitey Bulger in this effective police drama set in Boston. Based on a high-profile case, Bulger is essentially the nemesis to Joel Edgerton’s cop, who discovers that Bulger’s connection to his politician brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) has given him a free pass to build and defend a criminal empire. Adam Scott, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard and Dakota Johnson are along for the ride, and director Scott Cooper never lets the violent proceedings fall into Scorsese-by-numbers territory. And although he’s got less screen-time that the trailers and posters might have you expect, Depp is mesmerizing as Bulger, exuding a genuine malevolence that’s hard to shake off.