I remember going to the theater for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the feature film debut of Guy Ritchie. Its U.S. release was in the spring of 1999, when indie-inclined screens were still wallpapered with all manner of gruff, loquacious miscreants, the enduring hangover of Quentin Tarantino’s quick brand-bronzing success with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction a few years earlier. Ritchie’s film broke through the redundant din of desperate echoes of Tarantino. It had wit, style, and energy. At least i thought that was the case when I was watching it. A month or two later, my memory of it was already hazy. It’s now faded so completely for me that it’s as if I never saw it at all.
More than twenty years and a big batch of flashy films later, Ritchie’s hollow aesthetics have held. His movies are like cymbal crashes with no resonance, just one clanging loud noise that is gone immediately, as if clipped off by an overeager audio edit. His film The Gentlemen, which he also wrote (Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies share a story credit with him), finds Ritchie again documenting the sordid exploits of foul-mouthed gangsters in Great Britain. The plot involves drug empire magnate Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an American who came to the U.K. to attend Oxford and discovered a facility to peddling illicit substances. Mickey builds his business, accumulating enemies along the way. He also has a powerful partner in his wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). The two wreak plenty of havoc in response to other’s brutish jockeying to get a piece of their fetid pie.
The set-up to all this is shown. Mostly, though, it’s told. Scenes of events actually happening are intercut with a protracted sequence of a seedy private eye (Hugh Grant) explaining the twisty turns to Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), one of Mickey’s favored operatives. Presumably, Ritchie believes that delivering the pesky exposition this way allows for the depiction of the events to be potent blasts of pungent language and casual violence, all the better to juice the sweaty enthusiasm of fellow sufferers of arrested development likely to invest in tickets for this kind of cackling, clamoring endeavor. For those who crave something more than adrenalized id, The Gentlemen is punishing and exhausting.
I gave up thirty-five minutes in.
Previously in The Unwatchables…
— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, directed by Michael Bay
— Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton
— Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips
— Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder
— Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
— After Earth, directed by M. Night Shyamalan
— The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster
— Now You See Me 2, directed by Jon M. Chu
— The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman
— The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott
— Vice, directed by Adam McKay
— Savages, directed by Oliver Stone
— Welcome to Marwen, directed by Robert Zemeckis