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Friday, 1 January 2021

The Gentlemen (2019) WITH SPOILERS FROM THE START

I can't believe The Gentlemen came out in the UK a year ago today. It seems like a couple of years ago at least, but then, of course, 2020 has redefined 'relative concept' when it comes to time... I've only just got to watching it this week, despite being excited for it when it was coming out.

Though I was looking forward to it, I ended up feeling disappointed in the end at how 'on rails' it is, how procedural (like watching a feature-length Poirot, if Poirot said 'cunt' every fifteen minutes and loved to wave a gun around like Scarface). And that's a good point to discuss; am I tired of procedurality generally, because of detective stories and the like, or did this film feel unconvincing in and of itself? I think it's a bit of both. Certainly the reporter (Fletcher, played by Hugh Grant) here is interesting. He seems to know it all, but the way it is revealed at the end that he was being watched all the time was very 'told not shown' (well, it was both, because it used one of those narrated montages, where we are shown and told, but my point being that it's clunky and on the nose either way), blunt and uninspired. Yeah, a let down really, and not even particularly shocking... And then the loose ends that are tied up in the final moments feel like a very quick tick tick tick on a clipboard - very charmless, perfunctory, and menial, really.

I wasn't overly impressed by the meta-ness of it, either. Fletcher's shtick is revealing the information he knows via a film script that he has written about real events. The idea is that it not only serves the audience as a device for telling the story, but also helps the character, as it's piece of evidence he can use to threaten his contemporaries, and 'shop then in' should he not get the money he wants. I think I'm just bein a stick in the mud, but it felt lazy to me - although some people say that about the narration in American Beauty, y'know, it's all opinions, man. I have to admit it gave good opportunities for comedy (i.e. when Fletcher has to lip-read and translate a tense tête-à-tête between the Machiavellian crime lord Matthew, and ruthlessly ambitious gangster Dry Eye, which involves insertions of ridiculous words into the conversation). Also it highlights a lot of Fletcher's character - someone who thinks they are in control of proceedings, whereas proceedings are really controlling him - so it certainly has some merit.

Another big plot point is Michael (essentially the focal character of the whole film, as the owner of the criminal empire that everyone covets and vies for) being killed within the first five minutes of the film. I was like 'okay, that's been done before, but I'm still intrigued enough to find out the story behind the murder'. Later on, however, we find out that he wasn't really killed; his assassin was shot nearby, and it's the intruder's blood that we see splatter onto Michael, which I mistakenly took for his own, based on the initial camera shot. That was a pretty good twist, and I say this in mind with the characters and how I rooted for them/didn't root for them. I was rooting for Michael. It was good to see him back in the land of the living, as it were, and I don't remember feeling so effortlessly convinced by characters for a long time.

With respect to the characters as a whole, the setups and payoffs were all pretty much spot on. They're all criminals of some nature or other, from drug use to murder to international substance dealing. Apart from a couple of goons, however, the deaths only happen to the insatiably greedy, or one maguffin character (who we don't warm to anyway because of his wise-cracks in a tense situation (not that that means I'm 'happy' he died. His death was an accident, tho, so in terms of 'pay-off' the usual emotional transaction is satisfied. Only 'bad' people should be killed in these stories, unless we are dealing with anti-heroes or whatever...)). Then there are some people who have wrought havoc, and we could wish them comeuppance (i.e. the Toddlers, a group of tracksuit-clad gangsters with a penchant for multimedia stardom), but they are acting in mistaken knowledge that they are helping their friends/ colleagues, so instead they are tied up at the end (metaphorically speaking!) in non-violent ways, which again satisfies the usual 'western' ideas of narrative storytelling. The main 'villain' of the piece, Fletcher, who is a blackmailer, does not quite get away with his greed. He is not an evil person, tho. He is creepy, sure, and disrespectful, but clever, panacheful, and 'a real character', and we can't help but have an admiration for him. In that sense, it is entirely fitting that his 'comeuppance' is left open. Ray (who is Michael's bodyguard/fixer/etc) tracks him down and has him locked in the passenger's seat of a taxi - and that's when the credits roll. We can imagine what we like to happen to him, but not putting a death/torture scene in for his character feels appropriate, because, as I say, he's not 'bad' enough to warrant that. My thinking is that his behaviour would probably warrant a faked death, i.e. Ray would go back to Michael and say 'he's gone', and what he actually did was to give him a small amount of money, tell him to get out the country, and never be heard from again. In fact, when he is proprosing his true-to-life screenplay to one party, Fletcher does talk about leaving an open ending to mamintain the possibility of a sequel (ever the avarist!). In this sense, maybe my guess could be right, because Fletcher could easily come back into the picture later on, and would have leverage on Ray because he went against his boss' wishes, and therefore could enact narrative chaos again. Anyways, that's all speculation, and my main point is just that the tone of the film never slides into grauitous violence, there are reasons for the conflicts, and that just feels satisfying overall.

So some of the film I wasn't impressed with structurally, and as subject matter, we know it's nothing fresh from Ritchie. In that sense I wanted to give it three stars (out of five). However, it was a decent two hours' worth of entertainment, very little flab in the action/dialogue, and I appreciated a good few characterful touches to stop exposition fatigue. I felt so intrigued by the plot, so on-side with the characters, that it wouldn't feel right to score it so averagely. Can I beg you for a half? Three and a half stars, if I may be so weasley as to resort to that, seems about right to me :) It's for sure one you should watch if you're a fan of the genre, or just fancy some entertainment that's not suitable for kids.

Thanks for reading, and I genuinely hope that 2021 is a better year for everyone. Let's help get Covid on the run, use our deepened appreciation of life to help those less fortunate than ourselves, and break some of the cycles that lead to people becoming like characters in a Guy Ritchie film in real life

M

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