‘The Gentleman’ or — How to Annihilate Any and All Engagement Completely?
I made the mistake a few nights back of watching Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentleman’ (2019), an appalling, offensive, shallow, obnoxious, self-aggrandising, intellectually limited, derivative, solipsistic, badly written piece of drivel. So, in short, your typical Guy Ritchie film then.
The story is the worst kind of arch-meta bullshit that most filmmakers abandoned years back or had the initial common sense to never go near in the first place. It’s a convoluted, and badly structured, tale that sees Ritchie attempt to resurrect his sneering, disingenuous geezer persona from the start of his career only the immense vacuity of his work, something that has always been there, is exaggerated exponentially by so much of Ritchie’s own infantile personality being embedded in the script. At one point the film practically screams out “I use to be married to Madonna!”, so if that’s your idea of a movie with substance then you have my condolences… and my contempt.
Yet more than any of the laddish, boorish, yobbish, parasitical crap thrown up on the screen is Ritchie’s tendency to indulge in the adolescent habit of wish-fulfillment, specifically applying it to the end of ‘The Long Good Friday’ (1980). Ritchie shamelessly (he more than likely assumes he’s being provocative but, in reality, he’s actually being extremely irritating and annoying) lifts the entire ending of Mackenzie’s film but, in an act of artistic vandalism, says “Hey! What if Shand was saved? Wouldn’t THAT be cool?” No, it wouldn’t in the slightest. These are the actions of an idiot.
This is one of my big problems not only with Ritchie but also Tarantino (someone who Ritchie obviously wants to be), namely this almost infantile tendency for wish-fulfillment. With Tarantino it’s even more pathologically engrained meaning in his films Hitler is stopped, killers escape retribution, the Manson murders averted and a stunt man kicks the shit out of Bruce Lee. These are not the actions of an interesting filmmaker but those of an insecure baby with the power of a mad god.
Ritchie indulges heavily in this wish-fulfillment throughout ‘The Gentleman’ and it’s not so much that it becomes a bore as more that it never started off as interesting in the first place. He more than likely thinks he’s being subversive, edgy and daring or even challenging the laws of the Universe itself by adopting such a stance but if you are going to reference films such as ‘The Conversation’ (1974) and ‘The Long Good Friday’ and, by implication, look down on them whilst doing so then you really need to make sure that your own movie isn’t a piece of badly made shit before getting on any high horses. This is a film with its ego completely out of check and the result is shockingly embarrassing to behold.
Although my biggest problem with Ritchie’s wish-fulfillment isn’t that it jettisons any and all psychological depth, moral impact, emotional reality or ethical responsibility by baptising his characters in the cleansing waters of shallow, consequence-free gratification (I’m not that much of a prude) but that it also annihilates any and all dramatic or narrative tension, too. Seriously, why the hell bother with any of this if it is all for naught? It’s not just that nothing has been learned but that there’s also no reason to keep watching either, and that’s the bigger crime.
That’s the important issue both Ritchie and Tarantino miss (or wilfully ignore) with their lust to reshape both reality and cinema to their own image — that wish-fulfillment might seem superficially exciting and enticing but its true function is to ease frustration and pacify desire (it is a reason why we dream). Now that might be a healthy process psychologically speaking but a lack of desire and frustration is nothing but absolute and total death to engaging and captivating cinema.
Still, this technique was obviously effective. After all, I have no desire to see this fucking movie ever again.