The Gentlemen review

For F*** Magazine

THE GENTLEMEN

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast : Mathew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant, Tom Wu
Genre: Crime/Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 53 mins
Opens : 27 February 2020
Rating : M18

When Guy Ritchie made the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr, there still was a rough-and-tumble street quality to them. Then he made a movie version of the 60s spy-fi series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which still had recognisable Ritchie elements. Then he made the medieval fantasy King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and even more out of left field than that, directed the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin. With The Gentlemen, Guy Ritchie returns to his wheelhouse of street-level gangster mayhem, complete with crass irreverent dialogue and plenty of violence.

American-born Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is the UK’s top marijuana kingpin – he reigns over a carefully cultivated empire and now, he’s looking to sell, to live a life of peace with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) who runs a custom car garage.  Fellow American Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) has his eye on Mickey’s operation and faces competition from Dry Eye (Henry Golding), the ambitious apprentice of crime boss Lord George (Tom Wu). Newspaper editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) hires private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) to investigate Mickey’s dealings, after being snubbed by Mickey at a high society shindig. Fletcher offers to sell his findings to Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), meeting Raymond to tell him all the juicy details.

This is vintage Guy Ritchie – rough-and-tumble, witty, twisty, stylish and entertaining. Taken by themselves, none of the individual components of The Gentlemen offer anything new, but Ritchie has assembled them into a whole that works. Ritchie balances the silly and the sinister – there’s a lot about The Gentlemen that’s intended to be funny, but there are also genuinely tense scenes in which characters face off and you’re not sure who’s going to make it out alive. While The Gentlemen is predictable overall, Ritchie’s strength is in creating the illusion of unpredictability in the moment. The movie’s framing device is a meeting between Fletcher and Raymond, which provides the ideal framework for expository details about each characters’ backstory without it seeming tedious. There is a playfulness to The Gentlemen – the meta-fictional component of Fletcher writing a screenplay means that the movie winks so hard a couple of eyelashes almost fly off, but there’s a bit of charm in that.

As with any filmmaker who has cultivated a recognisable style and has become a brand name, there will be those who find said style annoying. The Gentlemen is not a restrained movie, with the Ritchie-ness turned up to 11: adherents will be there for it, but those who aren’t already fans of the director might well be alienated. There are attempts to be shocking that are in line with what one might expect from a Guy Ritchie crime movie – many instances of the c word are dropped and there are many racial slurs used against Jews, East Asians and black people (the film is slightly too amused with the Vietnamese name “Phuc”). Sure, this is a gangster movie populated by unpleasant characters whom we expect to do and say unpleasant things, but there are times when it feels like Ritchie is straining for relevance, that he’s an old dog trying and not always succeeding at performing new tricks. The casual racism is more lazy than shocking. There’s so much going on to the point where it feels like all the subplots and digressions are there to distract the viewer from how rote it is.

Ritchie has assembled a strong ensemble – the casting largely makes sense. McConaughey is having a grand old time playing the wily American – for how over-the-top this movie often is, there’s a level of control to his performance which is quite impressive, even though this doesn’t seem like an acting challenge for McConaughey.

Grant plays against type as a weaselly private investigator who is flamboyant and all too pleased with himself. He plays off Hunnam, Ritchie’s King Arthur, who plays the gruff straight man. Some of the film’s best moments are the interactions between the two, during which it almost feels like a stage play.

Henry Golding plays against type as a young crime lord on the way up – it’s probably the role that’s the most different from the others he’s played in his relatively brief career, but is one that gives him acting cred – “gangster in a Guy Ritchie movie” just looks good on an actor’s CV. It’s a shame that the character is the target of most of the movie’s racism.

Colin Farrell is entertaining as a wrestling coach who wants nothing to do with the drug-dealers and gangsters but is drawn into the fray because his students have stolen from one of Mickey’s weed farms and filmed it, the video going viral. We’re grading on a curve, but he is likely the most decent, ethical character in the film.

Michelle Dockery is, as predicted, under-used – the movie wants to establish Rosalind as being as formidable as her husband, but the narrative always favours him, such that she takes a backseat because that is the nature of the story.

Summary: A vulgar, dirty crime comedy that’s often as dumb as it is clever, The Gentlemen is, for better and worse, trademark Guy Ritchie material.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Soldiers of Fortune: Triple Frontier cast and producer in Singapore

SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE: TRIPLE FRONTIER CAST AND PRODUCER IN SINGAPORE

Stars Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund and producer Chuck Roven talk Netflix’s paramilitary action thriller

Jedd Jong

Netflix is bringing a rumble in the jungle into audiences’ living rooms with Triple Frontier, and the film’s stars and producer trekked from the deepest forests of South America to Singapore to promote the film. Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and producer Chuck Roven met fans at Marina Bay Sands and fielded questions from the press the next day.

The film centres on five men, Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck), Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaac), William “Ironhead” Miller (Charlie Hunnam), his brother Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund) and Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal). The ex-top tier military operatives, feeling frustrated that they have reaped nothing from their service, reunite for a mission. This time, they’re doing it for themselves. The men embark on a daring heist in the remote tri-border zone along the border of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil (hence the title), planning to rob a drug kingpin and keep the spoils for themselves. Despite the years of combat experience between them, unforeseen circumstances endanger the risky undertaking, leaving the men battling for their lives in unforgiving climes.

Triple Frontier is directed by J.C. Chandor and co-written by Chandor and Mark Boal. Chandor’s credits include All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year, and Boal is a former journalist who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the two latter films, was originally attached to Triple Frontier. Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp were initially announced as being in talks to join the film, with Channing Tatum, Tom Hardy and Mahershala Ali later attached. The film was originally set up at Paramount, before moving to Netflix. “It was quite a trek of its own getting it made,” Roven quipped.

From the get-go, Triple Frontier was gruelling for those both in front of and behind the camera. The film was shot on location in Oahu, Hawaii, Mammoth Mountain, California, and Bogota, Colombia. “So much of the movie was done very real, not on a soundstage, not with a lot of visual effects,” Roven said. Roven has produced films including the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman and American Hustle. “In addition, the elements were not always very kind to us,” Roven added, citing “historic rain” during the shoot in Hawaii. “We were sloshing around in mud and mudslides, and a lot of times it took us a long time to get to work. Once we were at work, we were in flood conditions and things like that,” he recalled, remarking “The movie is exciting to watch, but it was also exciting to make.”

The actors spoke about the preparation they undertook for the film, which included training with three former Navy SEALs and a former Delta Force operative in California’s Simi Valley. Charlie Hunnam spoke about how the actors were flung into the thick of things, saying “We didn’t know each other, I hadn’t met Ben before, or Pedro or Oscar, and within 30 minutes of meeting each other we were standing doing live fire exercises.”

Hunnam said that using live rounds helped the actors focus on their task and reminded them that it wasn’t a game. “The thing you hear time and time again from these soldiers is that at a moment’s notice, they’re willing to lay down their life for their brother and vice versa,” Hunnam shared.

Hunnam and Hedlund have been friends for 15 years, and because the actors have a passing physical resemblance, it was written into the script that their characters are brothers. Hedlund’s character Ben becomes an MMA fighter after retiring from active duty. Hunnam helped Hedlund prepare for the role by taking Hedlund to a gym called The Academy in Beverly Hills, which is run by Rigan Machado, known as one of the top competitors in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu history. Machado’s other
celebrity students include Vin Diesel, Ashton Kutcher and Chuck Norris. “I choked [Hedlund] out a little bit and showed him what it was about,” Hunnam quipped.

Hedlund is no stranger to the military, having played a soldier in six of his last eight films and having relatives who served. “My grandfather was stationed in the Philippines as an MP and never spoke of the war when he came back. My other grandfather was stationed in Germany with Elvis,” Hedlund revealed. “When I was a kid growing up on a farm, my father would walk me down the gravel road marching in cadence, because that’s what he was used to,” Hedlund continued.

He took the responsibility of playing a soldier seriously, saying “You always…give the utmost respect to the men you’re playing and never disrespect the uniform.” Hedlund stressed that the actors were careful in not rendering their ex-military characters as caricatures, saying “Everybody was very legit; we wanted the realism to stand out.”

Affleck said that meeting and working with the film’s military advisors dispelled him of some preconceived notions. “One of the misconceptions I had going into it was that they were going to be these real superhero military guys, they were going to be very aggressive and hierarchical and kind of drill sergeant bullies or something,” Affleck remarked. “Instead, they were the kindest, most open, humble [people] who taught us about…inter-reliance among each other as the most important thing.”

While it can seem that on a movie packed with stars one might want to jostle the other out of the spotlight, teamwork was key in accurately reflecting how a real-life Special Forces unit operates. “The thing they felt was most important to get across was that we would all move as one unit, one team together, rather than being about one person standing out and being the hero,” Affleck said. “I thought it was beautiful, we definitely took that to heart, and we tried to come together and make it work the way they trained us to do it.”

Affleck was conscious of the “vast delta” between his own lived experiences and those of military combat veterans. “It was a profoundly humbling experience to be around these men and understand the true nature of sacrifice and commitment and duty really was,” Affleck shared. While the film is testosterone-fuelled, making the movie was not about men trying to out-posture each other. “There really wasn’t a tremendous emphasis on hierarchy and being ‘alpha’ and being tougher than the other people,” Affleck said, adding that the film’s military advisors “educated me to understand that true strength came in compassion, in empathy and in teamwork, and I found that to be the lesson I took away from this movie.”

The actors’ preparation for the film was not just physical, but psychological as well. Hunnam’s research included reading the books War and Tribe by journalist Sebastian Junger, who was embedded with troops in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Junger continued to follow the soldiers after they returned from the war, observing how they adapted back to civilian life. Hunnam also watched Junger’s documentary films Restrepo and Korengal, which were made with photojournalist Tim Hetherington.  “He does a really incredible analysis of not only the psychological interplay of soldiers in war, but also the difficulty of coming home and reintegrating into civilian society, and the enormous loss that they generally feel,” Hunnam said of Junger.

Hunnam spoke of a specific example when one of the film’s military advisors stepped in to lend their expertise. “There’s a moment when I sustain an injury and of course in true Hollywood dynamic, was over-acting the moment,” Hunnam admitted. He said the military advisor “came over and gave me a couple of experiences where he himself had sustained massive injuries, and said ‘this is just a reality, you need to hold it together.’ It was amazing to get those kinds of insights in real time and make sure we were handling the situations correctly.”

On the surface, Triple Frontier might look like a typical action movie, but Roven assured the crowd that the film has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. “It is a genre that certainly others have done before, but in this particular situation and this particular script, where you think the movie is going, it doesn’t go there. It takes that genre and, in many ways, turns it on its head,” he declared.

Triple Frontier begins streaming on Netflix on March 13.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

For F*** Magazine

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD 

Director : Guy Ritchie
Cast : Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou Jude Law, Aidan Gillen, Eric Bana, Mikael Persbrandt, Lorraine Bruce, Hermione Corfield, Annabelle Wallis
Genre : Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 6min
Opens : 18 May 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Brief Coarse Language)

Mythical monarch King Arthur rears his head in not one, but two big-budget summer movies this year. Before Transformers: The Last Knight, we get this origin story. Orphan Arthur (Hunnam) has led a hardscrabble existence on the cobblestone streets of Londinium, unaware of his royal heritage. Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon (Bana), was deposed by Uther’s brother Vortigern (Law), who has become a power-mad sorcerer. Only Uther or his direct progeny can pull the sword Excalibur from the stone. When Arthur accomplishes this feat, he becomes the target of Vortigern’s fury. Arthur is assisted in his quest to defeat Vortigern by his friend Wetstick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Uther’s loyal advisor Sir Bedivere (Hounsou), skilled archer Goosefat Bill (Gillen) and a mysterious woman who wields control over animals through magic, known only as the Mage (Bergès-Frisbey). Arthur must achieve mastery of Excalibur, as he and his allies fight to reclaim the throne that is rightfully his.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the first in a planned series of six films. Legend of the Sword morphed continuously throughout its development: David Dobkin was originally set to direct a King Arthur film starring Kit Harington in the title role and Joel Kinnaman as Lancelot. Then, Colin Farrell was attached to the Arthur part, with Gary Oldman cast as Merlin. Under Guy Ritchie, it’s become Snatch meets Lord of the Rings. There have been countless big screen permutations of the Arthur legend, and this version smacks of a desperation to put a new spin – any new spin – on a public domain tale with name recognition. Legend of the Sword wants to be a superhero movie, a street level crime film, and a Game of Thrones-style epic of palace intrigue and high fantasy. Alas, it ends up being all those things and none at the same time; Ritchie struggling but failing to meld these disparate elements into a cohesive whole.

As with any legend so old and so widespread, there is no one true version of the King Arthur story. As evidenced by the floating fireballs and myriad outsized CGI animals, this isn’t intended to be “historical” in any sense. The screenplay by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, rewritten from a draft by Joby Harold, attempts to distil several elements from various versions of the myth, but they wind up convoluting things in the process. Narrative gymnastics make the Sword in the Stone the same sword as Excalibur, when in earlier tellings, they were separate swords. As expected from Ritchie, there is a combination of flash and grit. James Herbert’s editing often makes this difficult to follow. Not only is it jittery and arrhythmic, but there are multiple sequences that cut between Arthur and co. discussing a plan, then enacting said plan – or maybe it’s a hypothetical scenario of how the plan will unfold. It’s supposed to make things interesting, but renders them confusing instead.

Hunnam is a fine leading man, and got into spectacular shape for the film, packing on the muscle. Hunnam wanted the role so much that he declared to Ritchie that he would physically fight Henry Cavill and Jai Courtney, who were also being considered, for the part. For all Hunnam’s effort, Arthur is borderline boring. It’s a standard hero’s journey, rejecting the quest, accepting the quest story. He’s Oliver Twist 13-14 centuries early (there’s a pickpocketing montage) who grows up to shoulder the burden of destiny. Despite Ritchie’s stylistic trappings, Arthur emerges as a standard, serviceable hero – nothing more than that.

Before Law dons Dumbledore’s robes, he plays a far less benevolent wizard. Vortigern is characterised as a mafioso, usurping power and stabbing those close to him in the back – often literally. He slouches in his throne, disrespectful of the seat of power. There’s little nuance to the part, and while Vortigern is appropriately treacherous, he’s never truly scary.

Arthur’s associates in this film are proto-Knights of the Roundtable – Bedivere served King Uther, while Wetstick grew up on the streets of Londinium alongside Arthur. There’s an attempt to make this an eclectic bunch – we don’t know of another Arthurian movie featuring a Chinese martial artist named George (Tom Wu), who trains young Arthur in combat. While there’s the veneer of personality, the supporting characters are insufficiently defined. Gillen is fun to watch, owing more to his own flair as a performer than to the writing.

Bergès-Frisbey’s character is apparently Guinevere, though she’s only called ‘the Mage’ in the film. As the female lead, one would expect Bergès-Frisbey to get more to do, beyond issuing ominous warnings and standing offscreen as digital critters do her bidding. Speaking of the digital critters, the menagerie of elephants, snakes, eagles, wolves, bats and other beasts aren’t nearly as awesome (or as believable) as the Rabbit of Caerbannog from a certain other Arthurian movie.

Bana is in precious little of the film, and his appearance made us wonder what a King Arthur movie starring him would be like (probably better). Thankfully, the David Beckham cameo isn’t nearly as goofy as we feared.

While the Welsh and Scottish shooting locations are breath-taking, Legend of the Sword feels like a spectacle movie that is markedly unspectacular. For better and worse, but mostly worse, it is unmistakably a Guy Ritchie film. Ritchie’s sensibilities fail to coalesce with the mystique and grandeur he wants this film to possess. Perhaps with the origin story out of the way, the sequel will be more entertaining – but hoping for six of these is just giddy optimism.

Summary: Legend of the Sword is a flashy but somewhat incoherent remix of Arthurian myth that is caught in limbo between street-level grit and full-on fantasy.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Lost City of Z

For F*** Magazine

THE LOST CITY OF Z 

Director : James Gray
Cast : Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfayden, Edward Ashley, Iain McDiarmid, Franco Nero
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2h 20min
Opens : 20 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Nudity and Violence)

The Lost City of Z might be executive produced by Brad Pitt through his Plan B production house, but it has nothing to do with zombies. Instead, this historical drama tells the story of Col. Percy Fawcett (Hunnam), a British soldier-turned explorer. In 1906, Fawcett sets out on his first expedition at the behest of the Royal Geographical Society. Leaving his wife Nina (Miller) and his young son Jack (Tom Mulheron, Bobby Smalldridge and Holland at different ages), Fawcett departs to map an area of uncharted jungle on the border between Bolivia and Brazil. His expedition includes Cpl. Henry Costin (Pattinson) and biologist James Murray (Macfayden). Over the course of several expeditions and through befriending indigenous populations, Fawcett learns of a fabled lost city, said to be the remains of El Dorado. Fawcett dubs the city ‘Z’, and develops a single-minded preoccupation with finding this place, enduring the mockery of his peers.

The film is based The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, a 2009 non-fiction book by journalist David Grann. Pitt and his Plan B partners optioned the film rights in 2010, and was attached to play Fawcett. Then, he was replaced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who later dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, with Hunnam stepping in.

The story of Percy Fawcett, with its elements of history, adventure and obsession, has all the makings of a spellbinding motion picture. James Gray, who directs in addition to adapting the book for the screen, steadfastly crafts an old-fashioned film. Taking inspiration from directors like David Lean, Gray allows the grandeur to unfold. Gray presents us with detailed re-creations of Edwardian streets and costumes, location shooting in Santa Marta, Colombia, and even a sequence depicting the Battle of the Somme during the First World War. Because of Gray’s desire to make The Lost City of Z a serious historical drama, the film is sometimes stuffy, coming across like it’s putting on airs. For all its production values, the movie sometimes feels like a particularly expensive re-enactment from a National Geographic documentary.

For a film about an all-consuming obsession, The Lost City of Z doesn’t burrow very deep beneath the viewer’s skin. Gray is intent on faithfully depicting historical events, but we don’t get to spend enough time in Percy Fawcett’s headspace. While some have hailed Fawcett as a great explorer and a war hero, several historians have decried him as delusional and incompetent. It appears that Fawcett is a figure who remains controversial among the cognoscenti today, and taking this into account, The Lost City of Z is a rather staid affair. It is largely reverential of Fawcett, even though he’s portrayed with some flaws. The film’s standout scene depicts Fawcett consulting with a psychic, and things get a tiny bit trippy. Gray stated that he was aiming for a “slightly more hallucinogenic feel” than the David Lean-directed works he referenced, and perhaps The Lost City of Z could have benefitted from a few more injections of style.

All the actors are locked in to the type of film Gray is trying to make, and deliver performances befitting a stately period drama adventure. Hunnam might not yet have Pitt’s star power, nor does he have Cumberbatch’s peculiar charm, but he’s believable as a strapping heroic type, slashing through the jungle growth with a machete. It would’ve been interesting to see Hunnam tackle Percy’s burgeoning obsession in a slightly showier, albeit not cartoonishly exaggerated, manner.

As Fawcett’s right-hand man, Pattinson is hard at work distancing himself from his sparkly vampire days, sporting glasses and a bushy beard. While it’s a fine turn, it could have done with a dash more wit. Miller’s performance is similarly respectable, but as is often an exigency of the genre, Nina is little more than ‘the wife back home’. Towards the latter half of the film, the drama hinges on Fawcett’s relationship with his eldest son Jack. Jack resents his father for neglecting the family, but eventually yearns to follow in his footsteps as an explorer. While there isn’t a lot of room for the character to develop fully, Holland does his best with the material at hand.

The Lost City of Z’s 140-minute runtime will try the patience of viewers who aren’t particularly longing for the “good old days” of classic cinema. For a film that’s promoted as an epic adventure, it doesn’t exactly quicken the pulse. However, there’s a sincerity that permeates Gray’s approach, and with the assistance of veteran cinematographer Darius Khondji, he captures the look and feel of an old-timey period piece.

Summary: The Lost City of Z is lush, majestic and finely acted, but it lacks a rousing, viscerally exciting sense of propulsive adventure.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong