… And this is the point where I think I subconsciously gave up on Guy Ritchie. I liked Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch is one of my warm fuzzy slippers movies, familiar and beloved even though I wouldn’t necessarily consider it one of my favourite films.
But he traded his cachet for big Hollywood paydays, making two turgid action flick-inspired Sherlock Holmes adaptations and selling his soul for Disney remakes.
He missed his previous sweet spot again with RocknRolla but the entire time he tried and failed to recapture his previous spark or show up for a pay cheque for some reboot polish (the less said about the irascible The Man From U.N.C.L.E. the better) I waited patiently for his to return to the world of East End crims, rhyming slang and casually threatened violence.
So it was with great excitement I first read about what was originally called Toff Guys and became The Gentlemen, and what a disappointment. It seems Snatch was a lucky accident and Ritchie doesn’t actually have the talent to manage the same seamless tone between comedy and very realistic menace he did in that film, often delivered in the same breath.
Matthew McConaughey (and why they couldn’t get a decent British actor for the role is beyond me – ordering a pint and casually spitting the word ‘cunt’ just sounds wrong in his mouth) is Michael Pearson, a yank who runs a marijuana empire in London and wants out.
His pitch to a rival and potential buyer is simple. Change is coming, and soon grass will be legal like it is in the US, giving whoever controls the various hidden crops, distribution and infrastructure a gold mine waiting to happen.
But while he tries to package and sell his kingdom, rival gangs and various low lives are whirling around the periphery intending to take a slice or unwittingly getting caught up in on the action.
From the Chinese gang and their fearsome lieutenant (Henry Golding) to a group of young council estate thugs under the tutelage of a local boxing trainer (Colin Farrell), it does at least have Ritchie’s signature melange of heightened UK/European characters with violently conflicting aims. But at times I had trouble figuring out who they all were and how they fitted in to the story.
It wasn’t helped by Ritchie’s script apparently trying to go all Tarantino on us and jump back and forth between the actual events and a kind of Greek chorus in the form of muckraking reporter Fletcher (Hugh Grant) and Pearson’s most trusted fixer Ray (Charlie Hunnam).
Fletcher shows up at Ray’s house one night telling the latter he wants to tell him a story, which turns out to be the one about Pearson’s exploits and his wanting to sell up and retire so he can enjoy life with his straight-talking wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery).
In some kind of order we find out that the editor at Fletcher’s right wing rag, Big Dave (Eddie Marsan), was recently snubbed by Pearson at a swanky gala and wants to get revenge by publishing an expose of Pearson’s living that will take him down. So Fletcher is at Ray’s place to make Pearson an offer – pay Fletcher off instead and he won’t run the story ruining Pearson and everyone involved with him.
The story being told is anything but straightforward, full of subplots and asides that seem to go nowhere. In one, Pearson feels sorry for the landed couple who own the country house one of his farms is hidden on when they lose their daughter to druggie losers in London and sends Ray to retrieve her along with some muscle.
It results in an arbitrary and comical death that comes back up later in a weird Deus Ex Machina that feels like Ritchie and his story collaborators just couldn’t think up anything smarter to drive the plot forward.
Then there’s a weird sequence where Pearson commits a brutal murder and we cut back to Ray and Fletcher, Fletcher explaining that’s not at all what happened, he was just making sure Ray was listening.
Everything that happens just feels like it was dreamed up on the hoof rather than being part of an actual tale of cause and effect dreamed up by writers of discernible talent.
Worse still, where Snatch managed to suggest violence through strong characters without having to resort to it as much as it first seemed (a lot like how we all remember seeing the knife plunge into Marion Crane’s body), here we just get a few sudden snippets of brutality which drain the oxygen out of any sense of threat and danger.
It was what Guy Ritchie used to do well, but when it seems even he can’t do it anymore, I have no more cause to hope he’ll get back to it.
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