THE GENTLEMEN. In case anybody was wondering, Guy Ritchie — when not occupied with middling, sometimes incomprehensibly conceived blockbusters (Sherlock Holmes and its sequel A Game of Shadows, 2009 and 2011; The Man from UNCLE, 2015; King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, 2017; Aladdin, 2019) — apparently still feels compelled to return to the well of his artistic beginnings. In a quick survey of my reviews of his recent work, it's clear that I've spent already altogether too much time describing the importance of his first couple of movies to my nascent, if sometimes lamentable, cinematic sensibility.
Twenty years ago (hurts every time I put it into words), his seemed like a bright, brash, new version of crime cinema, all lurid lighting, oblique angles and smash cuts set to garage rock and Cockney rhyming slang. I don't think we were wrong to be taken by his work at the time; it was something different, tantalizing and fun. It synthesized its antecedents in the U.K. crime genre with seemingly unprecedented humor and confidence. But was it of substance? Well, that's another matter altogether, isn't it?
The brashness that defined Ritchie's early movies has, with the passage of time, shown its seams — swagger being best left to the young and all that. While he has maintained some of the stylistic energy that we would have called his signature — along with the problematic model of masculinity that fuels it — he has, at least in the work, mellowed a bit with age. The camera moves a little less, the music is a bit more subdued, the scenes rather talkier. Despite these superficial changes, though, Ritchie is still apparently compelled by the glamorously seedy U.K. criminal underworld of his imagination. He's visited this world over and again throughout his career with decidedly mixed results, and it has made me wonder whether he has (mistakenly?) decided that age has remade his cleverness as wisdom. The Gentlemen, while better balanced and ultimately more enjoyable than some past efforts, has about it an air of manufactured gravitas, a falsely humble self-importance that works against the fun and vitality without which it cannot exist.
Michael "Mickey" Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a Rhodes scholar turned ex-pat turned ganja kingpin, feels the time has come to retire. His house is in order, his business mind-bogglingly lucrative; why not take it easy? He proposes to sell the whole works to a colleague/rival for an astronomical, if reasonably arrived at sum. Business being business, though, whether in the boardroom or the back alley, everybody wants a better deal. And so follow a series of strongarm attempts, double-crosses and murders very much in keeping with the Ritchie canon. By Mickey's side, throughout, stands his most trusted lieutenant, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), from whose perspective the story is primarily told. Well, a word about that: The narrative actually unfolds in a series of flashes forward and back, framed by a conversation between Ray and a crumb-snatching private detective called Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has been enlisted by the editor of a gossip rag to gather evidence for a public smear campaign against Mickey. Fletcher, being an opportunist, figures he might as well approach Ray with a blackmail attempt. Ray, being a mercenary, figures he might as well entertain Fletcher long enough to gather sufficient intelligence to squash the whole affair. And then there's a lot of background noise about Chinese pretenders to the throne, an upper-class heiress turned junkie-wastrel and some ne'er do well rudies from a well-known fighting gym. (It's worth noting that Colin Farrell, as the beleaguered but very capable fight coach, fairly steals the show.) Not nearly enough time is devoted to Rosalind Pearson (Michelle Dockery), Mickey's coolly ferocious better half and owner/operator of a for-women-by-women tuner garage.
All accounted for, The Gentlemen, with its cheeky performances and customarily exciting costuming and action, succeeds as a British crime caper comedy, a feat in itself when the market for such things seems to have so markedly drawn back. And it is, to be fair, a better example of the genre than many I've seen. With its rather clunky narrative structure and its underwhelming climax-to-denouement, though, it might not be quite as significant or sophisticated as it thinks it is. Despite that and its occasionally miscalculated stylistic flourishes, it makes for a good time at the movies and represents, at least for the faithful, something of a return to form. R. 113M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
GRETEL AND HANSEL. Oz Perkins directs a horror adaptation of the already creepy fairy tale. PG13. 87M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS: ANIMATED. Animal Behaviour, Bao, Late Afternoon, One Small Step and Weekends. BROADWAY, MINOR.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS: DOCUMENTARY. Black Sheep, End Game, Lifeboat, A Night at the Garden and Period. End of Sentence. MINOR.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS: LIVE ACTION. Detainment, Fauve, Marguerite, Mother and Skin. BROADWAY, MINOR.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). Perfect chaser if you're just getting over Judy. NR. 113M. BROADWAY
THE RHYTHM SECTION. Blake Lively stars as a woman hunting down those responsible for the plane bombing that killed her family. With Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown. R. 109M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
1917. Director Sam Mendes' single-shot World War I drama tells the story of British soldiers crossing the horrors of No Man's Land with urgency and dream-like continuity. R. 119M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS. The 21st annual compilation of the best animated shorts from around the world. NR. MINIPLEX.
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the buddy cop franchise set in Miami. R. 123M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DOLITTLE. The eccentric vet who talks to animals played by Robert Downey Jr. With Antonio Banderas. PG. 101M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
FROZEN 2. Elsa and Anna return for more snowbound sisterly adventure and to put that song back in your head. PG. 104M. BROADWAY.
A HIDDEN LIFE. Director Terrence Malick's biographical drama about an Austrian conscientious objector who refuses to go to war for the Nazis. What's good, GOP? PG13. 174M. MINOR.
HONEYLAND. A documentary about a beehunter in rural Europe and the visiting itinerant beekeepers whose methods conflict with hers. 90M. NR. MINIPLEX.
JOJO RABBIT. Director Taika Waititi's satire about a Hitler youth recruit (Roman Griffin Davis) whose goofy imaginary friend is Hitler (Waititi) and who struggles with his beliefs when he finds his mother is hiding a Jewish girl. PG13. 108M. MINOR.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are literally back in the game, which is glitching. PG13. 123M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
KNIVES OUT. Director Rian Johnson's tightly controlled whodunnit both pays homage to and raises the stakes of classic mystery with a stellar cast. Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
LITTLE WOMEN. Writer/director Greta Gerwig's artfully executed and well-acted adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel has narrative complexity that will reward multiple viewings. Starring Saorise Ronan, Emma Watson and Laura Dern. PG. 134M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
ONCE UPON A TIME ... IN HOLLYWOOD. Quentin Tarantino recreates 1969 Los Angeles for a deceptively nuanced though bloody as ever movie about a washed up actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), his stuntman (Brad Pitt) and the murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). R. 165M. MINOR.
PARASITE. Writer/director Bong Joon Ho's entertaining, explosive drama about a poor family scamming its way to employment with a rich one is stunning in its sudden turns and unflinching mirror on capitalist society. Starring Kang-ho Song and Woo-sik Choi. (In Korean with subtitles.) R. 132M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. J.J. Abrams steers a tremendous cast, fantastic effects and a few rousing sequences but this wrap-up of the Skywalker saga is visually and narratively cacophonous enough to drown out emotional moments. PG. 141M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE TURNING. Henry James horror adaptation about the worst babysitting gig ever. PG13. 94M. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill