By: Kevin Jordan
Travel well indeed.
Guy Ritchie needed a win. After the success of his two Sherlock Holmes films in 2009 and 2011, people largely ignored the very good The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) was an unmitigated disaster, and the Aladdin remake (2019) was a pile of shit that was only successful because certain nostalgia is as potent as heroin. Taking that nostalgia as a hint, Ritchie decided to go back to his roots by making another film in the same vein as the two that put him on the map (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch). Full disclosure: I have never actually seen Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I probably should. Now that I have seen The Gentlemen, I have an idea what those other two are like.
One filmmaking technique I go back forth between hating and liking is starting a movie by showing us something from the middle or end of the story. The Usual Suspects employs one of the best uses of it and John Wick easily has one of the worst. Context is key. It works in The Usual Suspects because we want to find out the identity of Keyser Soze. It utterly fails in John Wick because we know John is not going to die. The Gentlemen starts with drug lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) sitting in a pub, talking to his wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) over the phone. Behind him, a man with a gun walks up, the camera cuts to the table in front of him, then we hear a muffled gunshot and see blood spray across the table. Immediately, two thoughts race through your brain. One – did they just kill Matthew McConaughey? Two – there is no way they just killed Matthew McConaughey. Right?
You think he’ll mind that we used his Lincoln for this?
Long ago, my wife taught me one of the cardinal rules of filmmaking – if you didn’t actually see the death, it didn’t actually happen. That is not to say characters are not killed off-screen sometimes. It is to say that an off-screen death can always and easily be undone. The Gentlemen puts this idea front and center. On one hand, McConaughey is the lead in the film, and he is Matthew McConaughey, so we immediately doubt that he is dead. On the other hand, he is playing a drug lord, so it is very conceivable that the story ends with his death. At this point, we don’t know if Pearson is good or bad or even know the fact that he is a drug lord (unless you had that spoiled for you by trailers or IMDb). All we know is the guy from the Lincoln ads appears to have taken a bullet to the brain.
In order to sell the mystery of the opening scene, the story is presented to us in the form of paparazzo Fletcher (Hugh Grant) and Pearson’s right-hand man, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), walking us through the events leading up Pearson’s shooting. All of the events are the result of Pearson deciding to sell his marijuana business to American drug lord Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) and another aspiring drug lord, Dry Eye (Henry Golding), wanting to get in on the action. Fletcher has a bunch of incriminating evidence of Pearson and Raymond’s operations, including plenty of associated crimes, and decides to blackmail Raymond for £20 million. Raymond patiently listens as Fletcher recounts events and we, the audience, are treated to a very entertaining film.
He is definitely dead. Unless he isn’t.
Plenty of credit goes to Ritchie, as this genre is his wheelhouse, but the film really works because of the performances. Hunnam and Grant are wonderful together, bantering and toying with each other throughout the film. Golding and Strong provide great contrasts in character to each other and Pearson, all three of them giving us a different type of character. Colin Farrell, playing a boxing coach whose students accidentally get them all caught up in the mix, steals every scene he is in. Dockery makes a case that she is the real power behind Mickey’s throne, standing out as the alpha in her every scene. And then of course, McConaughey. Pearson is an Oxford-educated, well-spoken kingpin, who is every bit as intimidating when calm as he is when his emotions break free. He is every bit the guy driving the Lincoln, as well as that same guy in the unaired commercials that murders passing-lane cruisers that cut him off while texting.
More often than not, I am not a fan of gangster flicks. Usually, it is films like The Irishman or The Departed or American Gangster that turn me off to the genre. Films that take themselves way too seriously; where violence seems to be the key focus of the film. Basically, movies that are no fun whatsoever. I gravitate towards the ones that are either very clever or have a sense of humor or, best of all, both. The Usual Suspects is the epitome of clever. Pulp Fiction has a sense of humor and is clever sometimes, though really tests the audience with the rape dungeon (and let’s be honest – the primary appeal of Pulp Fiction is much more the format of the movie than the story it tells). Over the years, I have found that British gangster films are my favorite because they are almost always clever and funny and The Gentlemen is definitely both. I am still patiently waiting for Sherlock Holmes 3, but The Gentlemen is worth the delay.
Rating: Do not ask for any money back unless you are still annoyed that Ritchie wasted our time with Aladdin.
By: Kevin Jordan
Well, that was a…umm…movie.
One of these days, Guillermo del Toro is going to make a movie that blows us all away. Ten years ago, I thought that movie was going to be Pan’s Labyrinth, which featured fantastic creatures and a few really good scenes, but was a disappointing movie overall. Then, Hellboy 2 came out, the fantasy nerd in me shrieked in delight, but at no point during the film did I ever think del Toro hit his peak. More recently, Pacific Rim released and the makers of the latest Godzilla movie cried because Pacific Rim was exactly the movie they thought they were making until they noticed that they had left Godzilla out of two thirds of their movie. Pacific Rim was an awesome movie, but all del Toro really proved was how not to fuck up a giant-monster-battle-royale movie. Amazingly, those are the only three movies del Toro directed between 2006 and this weekend’s Crimson Peak, and after watching Crimson Peak I can unequivocally say that it was, indeed, a movie.
Maybe it was the toll put him on during his involvement with The Hobbit trilogy that led to a very ho-hum Crimson Peak because it was the least creative movie he’s ever made (full disclosure – I haven’t seen any of his foreign films). If you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know there are ghosts and as my friend succinctly put it, “you could have interchanged any of the ghosts and nobody would have noticed.” The lack of del Toro’s usual eye-poppingly unique creatures was painfully evident as the humans in the film were asked to carry this film on their back. Granted, they are very capable humans (Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, and Tom Hiddleston, with support from Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver), but the lackluster story and screenplay buried them.
First act notwithstanding, the film is a haunted house thriller that del Toro insists is not a horror flick, but a gothic romance. Seriously, look it up (del Toro said as much in interviews). Even though the film features ghosts that look like they are bleeding, it’s really about a romance between Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) and Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) and is set around the turn of the twentieth century in a dark and spooky house in England (mostly), so gothic.
(Side note: I could have a problem with this since the Gothic period was from the 12th century to the 16th century and this movie is a period piece, but I didn’t know del Toro had said that prior to watching the movie. It has no bearing on the movie anyway, the characters “look Goth,” and del Toro might still have been a Hobbit-made puddle, so whatever.)
And you know what – I believe him. Sadly, that’s what makes Crimson Peak so ho-hum. I don’t go into del Toro’s movies looking for romance and I’m guessing neither does anyone else. The romance in question is between Edith and Thomas, much to the chagrin of Edith’s father, Carter (Beaver). Thomas’s sister, Lucille (Chastain), condones it only so far as to get to Edith’s money. Dr. McMichael (Hunnam) has eyes for Edith, but never acts on it and is forced to settle for disapproving looks at Thomas. The first act ends predictably, the movie relocates to the Sharpe estate in England (the Cushings live in Buffalo, NY), and the cast shrinks down to the Sharpes and Edith. The rest of the film is Edith uncovering the truth about the Sharpes and trying not to die, neither of which is particularly interesting.
At this point, you should be wondering two things – (1) what about the ghosts and (2) why is the movie called Crimson Peak? Those are supposed to be the two interesting things, and like the rest of the film, underwhelm. In reverse order, Crimson Peak is a nickname for the hill that the Sharpes’ house is built on, so named because the red clay it is built on stains the snow red during the winter. Incidentally, Thomas marries Edith in part because he needs money to restart his family’s clay mine. Anyway, the ghosts exist solely as a combination of breadcrumbs and oracle to Edith. At first, they appear to be menacing, but, like most of the ghosts in The Haunting, they really just want the heroine to save/avenge them. While they are creepy looking, the only entertainment they provided was my friend wondered why oracles in movies never speak in plain words rather than riddles. Specifically, Edith’s dead mom appears to her early in the film and says “Beware of Crimson Peak.” If her warning was so dire, why not just use the actual name of the Sharpe estate or “Beware of Thomas Sharpe” or “Beware of the crazy bitch playing the piano?”
I’m sure a lot of main stream critics are going to overlook the lackluster, blah nature of the story in order to fawn all over Jessica Chastain, the costumes, and set pieces. They’ll also make sure to tell you that Tom Hiddleston also plays Loki in the Avengers movies because they think you are stupid, blind, and live under a rock. What they don’t realize is that they focused on those things because the movie was that boring. So, if you read any other reviews and they try to convince you that it is a good movie, just remember that they are only right about one thing – it is, in fact, a movie.
Rating: Ask for eight dollars back. The remainder is equal to the percentage of importance costumes and set pieces are to making a movie good.