Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Culture Representation: Taking place in an alternate universe called the Forgotten Realms, where magic exists, the fantasy/action film “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) portraying humans, mutants and various creatures.
Culture Clash: After being betrayed by a former colleague who has taken over leadership of a city-state, three thieves team up with a druid and a paladin to defeat him and gain possession of a resurrection tablet.
Culture Audience: “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Dungeons & Dragons games, the movie’s headliners, and thrilling fantasy films that serve generous helpings of comedy.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a rollicking adventure packed with thrilling action scenes and appealing touches of comedy. You don’t have to know anything about Dungeons & Dragons games to enjoy this movie. It’s the type of film that will inspire repeat viewing and a loyal fan base in what will inevitably be a major movie franchise.
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Michael Gilio), “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” takes the complexity of the Dungeons & Dragons games and simplifies it with an easy-to-follow story with memorable characters. One of the movie’s distributors is eOne, which is owned by Hasbro, the company that makes the Dungeons & Dragons games.
“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (which takes place an alternate universe called the Forgotten Realms) begins with a man named Edgin Darvis (played by Chris Pine) telling his story as a flashback. He used to be a member of the Harpers, a loosely knit group of spellcasters and spies who believe in equality and secretly oppose the abuse of power. The Red Wizards are among the most evil and powerful beings in the Forgotten Realms
Edgin’s wife Zia (played by Georgia Landers) was murdered by a Red Wizard durng one of his missions. After her death, Edgin raised their daughter Kira (played by Chloe Coleman), with the help of a bachelorette barbarian named Holga Kilgore (played by Michelle Rodriguez), whom he befriended. Edgin and Holga developed a brother-sister type of relationship, and Kira began to consider Holga to be like an aunt.
After his wife’s death, Edgin began a new life as a thief, working with a team that included Holga, a fumbling sorcerer named Simon Aumar (played by Justice Smith) and a con man named Forge Fitzwilliam (played by Hugh Grant). Edgin’s main goal in life is to find a resurrection tablet, which can grant the power to bring one person back from the dead before the tablet is rendered useless. Edgin wants to find the tablet to resurrect Zia.
One day, as shown in the movie, the four thieves break into former lair of the Harpers, but a Red Wizard named Sofina (played by Daisy Head) shows up and casts a spell that puts a time stop that makes Edgin and Holga unable to move. Simon and Forge escape. Before these two cohorts leave, Edgin asks Forge to look after Edgin’s daughter Kira. It’s a decision that Edgin will regret.
Edgin and Holga end up in prison for two years. They appear before a parole board to see if they will be pardoned. Before the board can make its decision, Edgin and Holga escape and go to try and find Kira. They discover that Forge has reinvented himself as the Lord of Neverwinter, and he has raised Kira to believe the lie that Edgin is a greedy thief who abandoned her because Edgin cares more about looking for treasures than being a father to Kira.
Edgin now must convince Kira that he is still a loving father who can raise her again, and he still wants to find the resurrection tablet. Holga and Edgin reunite with Simon, who recruits a tiefling druid named Doric (played by Sophia Lillis) to join them. Doric has shapeshifting powers and can transform herself to look like a variety of animals. Simon has an unrequited crush on Doric, who rejected his previous attempts to court her. Doric, who rarely smiles, doesn’t trust humans because humans have betrayed her in her past.
During the gang of four’s adventures, they meet a paladin named Xenk Yandar (played by Regé-Jean Page), who became an orphan as a boy when his family was slaughtered by Red Wizards invaded Xenk’s country. Xenk is highly intelligent, but wisecracking Edgin thinks that Xenk’s super-serious personality is annoying. This clash becomes a source of comedy in the movie.
“Dungeons and Dragons” Honor Among Thieves” has impressive visual effects and exciting action scenes that immerse viewers into this fantastical universe. There are many amusing parts of the story, such as corpses being interviewed at a graveyard. Grant as the roguish Forge gets many of the best comedic lines in the movie. Bradley Cooper also makes a cameo as Marlamin, a diminutive ex-boyfriend of Holga, who shows a vulnerable side to her tough and brave personality when she meets up with Marlamin. The principal cast members have great chemistry together, which hopefully won’t be lost when the inevitable “Dungeons & Dragons” movie sequels will be made.
Paramount Pictures and eOne will release “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” in U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in various countries in Europe and Asia, the action film “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A group of undercover operatives, who work for the British government, recruit a movie star to work with them on a mission, as they try to stop an illegal deal involving weapons of mass destruction, in order to save the world.
Culture Audience: “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Guy Ritchie, star Jason Statham, and formulaic and soulless spy movies.
When does a movie about undercover operatives become boring and useless? When you can predict everything that will happen within the first 10 minutes of watching the film. “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is so formulaic and lacking in creativity, you could literally fall asleep in the middle of the film and not miss much, because there isn’t much of a plot. This smug and cliché-plagued action flick is proof that Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham have gotten lazy in their movie collaborations. The fights look too fake. The whole film is a failure of imagination, motivated by greed and paid trips to exotic places.
Ritchie directed “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies. Ritchie, Atkinson and Davies previously collaborated on the screenplays for 2020’s “The Gentlemen” and 2021’s “Wrath of Man,” which were both also directed by Ritchie. The quality of each of these collaborations has rapidly decreased with each subsequent film.
Stop if you’ve heard this plot before: A ragtag group of undercover operatives jet back and forth to various countries to try to stop a “fill in the blank” from happening, in order to save the world. In the case of “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” the mission is to stop a billionaire arms dealer from selling a stolen cargo of weapons of mass destruction, and to prevent these weapons from being available on the open market. This over-used concept describes every other big-budget spy film with an ensemble cast of stars, whose characters fight, get involved in car chases, dodge explosions, and maybe have a little romance along the way.
“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” (“ruse de guerre” means “ruse of war” in French) is a checklist of these stereotypes, without coming close to being as charming and funny as the movies thinks it is. Half of the principal cast members look like they’ve checked out emotionally and act no better than robots, while the other half of the principal cast members try to salvage the weak and derivative screenplay by playing their roles with a “tongue in cheek” tone that just looks awkward when they’re in the same scenes as their lackluster co-stars. It’s not the worst spy movie ever, but it shouldn’t be this bad, since the filmmakers and stars of this movie are capable of doing much better.
“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” (which was filmed in Turkey and Qatar but takes place in several countries in Europe and Asia) opens with a scene of a world-weary British government operative named Nathan (played by Cary Elwes) being somewhat annoyed, as he walks through a government building to have an office meeting with his supervisor: a no-nonsense and bland bureaucrat named Knighton (played by Eddie Marsan), who has summoned Nathan to this meeting on a Sunday morning.
Nathan is irritated because of the time and day of this meeting. Nathan apparently still doesn’t understand that he doesn’t have the type of job where the only work hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Monday to Friday. Nathan acting like he should have regular office hours is one of many ways that “Operation Fortune” makes these spy characters look like idiots. Knighton tells Nathan that 20 armed guards were killed two nights earlier, during an armed robbery that happened near Johannesburg, South Africa.
Knighton gives Nathan this order about the stolen cargo: “I want you to retrieve what went missing, and to find out who the seller is, who the buyer is, and what it is. It’s worth about $10 billion. it’s been given the name The Handle.” Translation: The screenplay is so sloppy and underdeveloped, the screenwriters didn’t bother to come up with any interesting details before this mission began. And if Knighton doesn’t know what the missing cargo is, how does he really know it’s worth $10 billion? It’s all just so illogical and stupid.
Knighton says to Nathan: “I need a creative, cunning and unconventional vision to retrieve this kind of mercurial threat. A courier on a bicycle in congested traffic. Not the official team. They’d take forever to wade through traffic, and the clock doth ticketh.”
First of all, “creative, cunning and unconventional” is not how to describe this movie. Second, who says nonsense like “The clock doth ticketh?” Third, the answer to that question: Only people in a badly written movie.
Nathan then begrudgingly assembles a team that includes these three core members for this mission:
Orson Fortune (played by Statham), a stern Brit, is described as having claustrophobia, agoraphobia and a penchant for having the British government pay for his lavish expenses, which he calls “rehab,” whether it’s for legitimate rehab or not.
Sarah Fidel (played by Aubrey Plaza), a wisecracking American, is a quick thinker and a computer technology expert.
JJ Davies (played by Bugzy Malone), a quiet and loyal Brit, has keen shooter skills and can handle himself well in a fist fight.
This is the type of idiotic dialogue in the movie. In the meeting between Nathan and Orson to get Orson to join the team, Nathan says, “[A] threat is imminent.” Orson asks, “How imminent?” Nathan replies, “Imminently imminent.”
Nathan is not looking forward to working with Orson, because Nathan thinks that Orson is too high-maintenance and problematic, but Knighton has ordered that Orson be on Nathan’s team. Meanwhile, Orson and Sarah have some friction with each other because they each think they are smarter than the other one. JJ is truly a token character who doesn’t say or do much except show up at the right times to help out in a fight. Nathan does some traveling with his crew, but for most of the movie, he’s giving orders while he’s in an office or away at a luxury resort.
Sarah used to work for Nathan’s fiercest operative rival Mike Hook (played by Peter Ferdinando), who also works for the British government, but Mike has a habit of poaching Nathan’s best employees. John Welch (played by Nicholas Facey) is a recently poached employee who currently works for Mike. Nathan thinks hiring Sarah for Nathan’s team is some sort of revenge that he can get on Mike.
“Operation Fortune” has several repetitive scenes showing Nathan and/or members of his team having snarling, sneering and sniping encounters with Mike and his team. After the third time this happens, you’ll feel like yelling at the screen: “We get it: Nathan’s people and Mike’s people don’t like each other!” Here are some choice words that Nathan has to say about Mike when Nathan is having a phone conversation with Knighton: “Mike only has two talents: blowing his cover and blowing himself.”
After Nathan and Orson go to Madrid to bring Sarah and JJ into their team, there’s a silly caper sequence that’s supposed to take place at Merchant Logo Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, where a retired professor named Donald Bakker (played by Ian Bartholomew) with a brown crocodile briefcase has been identified as the “bag man” with an important computer data drive. Nathan’s team and Mike’s team are all spying on Donald at the airport at the same time.
Somehow, throughout the entire movie, Sarah seems to have video surveillance and wireless microphones everywhere. She works like a one-person, far-reaching command center to tell people, who are long distances away, everything she’s seeing while they all wear hidden ear pieces. Sarah also spends a lot of time directing people on where to go, as if they’re characters in a voice-activated video game.
Nathan’s team finds out that a billionaire arms dealer named Greg Simmonds (played by Hugh Grant) is involved in the deal to sell the stolen cargo. Greg (who is jaded and arrogant) and a dimwitted action movie star named Danny Francesco (played by Josh Hartnett) have a platonic bromance that heats up during the course of the movie. It’s a one-note joke that quickly gets old. Orson and Sarah come up with a plan to enlist Danny’s help to spy on Greg, by having Sarah pose as Danny’s girlfriend when Greg invites Danny to stay at Greg’s luxurious estate in Cannes, France.
Greg has several generically shallow people in his entourage, including a scowling assistant named Emilia (played by Lourdes Faberes); other employees named Trent (played by Tom Rosenthal) and Arnold (played by Oliver Maltman); and hangers-on/friends named Alexander (played by Tim Seyfi), Dmitry (played by Ayhan Eroğlu), Yiv (played by Savaş Ak), Natalya (played by Oleksandra Zharikova) and Katya (played by Mishel Lazarenko). These characters have no real purpose in the movie except to possibly add to the inevitable body count of murdered people.
“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” has no shortage of glamorous-looking locations, as these characters zip around to places such as Morocco, Quatar and Turkey. But having pretty-looking scenery just looks like an ineffective distraction to a flimsy plot. The movie’s fight scenes are underwhelming, while the jokes mostly fall flat, despite Plaza and Grant making an effort to bring some personality to this hack job pretending to be a thrilling spy caper.
“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” rehashes the same outdated spy-movie ensemble stereotypes of having a group of protagonists consisting of several macho men and one token woman. And (sexist cliché alert) she has to use her sexuality to accomplish her work goals, while the men never have to use their sexuality to accomplish their work goals. Filmmakers who resort to these tired clichés, when there are so many other options that are fresh and innovative, just expose how backwards their mindsets are when it comes to how women are presented in their movies. “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” has several scenes that show off how much money was probably spent to film the movie in exotic or pricey locations. But make no mistake: “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is creatively bankrupt.
Lionsgate released “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” in U.S. cinemas on March 3, 2023. The movie was released in several other countries, beginning in January 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020, mostly on an unnamed island in Greece and briefly in the United States, the comedy/drama film “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African American and Asians) portraying the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Southern gentleman detective Benoit Blanc is invited to the private Greek island of a technology billionaire, who is hosting a murder mystery party, where at least one person gets murdered for real.
Culture Audience: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of 2019’s “Knives Out,” star Daniel Craig, and murder mysteries that are also incisive social satires.
Simply put: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is a sequel that’s better than the original movie. This comedy/drama is a fantastic follow-up to 2019’s “Knives Out,” another comedically dark murder mystery with its central location being the home of a wealthy person. Both movies, which are self-contained stories written and directed by Rian Johnson, deliciously skewer arrogant, rich elitists and other people with bad attitudes, while American Southern gentleman detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig) solves the murder mystery. “Glass Onion” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Johnson has said in many interviews that his greatest inspirations for his “Knives Out” movie series are Agatha Christie mystery novels and movie adaptations of these novels. In that respect, Benoit is like an American version of Christie’s “world’s greatest detective” Hercule Poirot from Belgium—someone who can deduce and reveal complex details and secrets about other people’s lives, but his own personal life remains a self-guarded mystery. (Craig is British in real life, but you can tell he has fun with doing a leisurely American Southern accent when he’s in the role of Benoit.)
Because the “Knives Out” movies are self-contained, it’s not necessary to see the first “Knives Out” movie to understand “Glass Onion.” However, seeing “Knives Out” can give viewers a better appreciation of how “Glass Onion” is an improvement from the first “Knives Out” movie, which is enjoyable but more predictable than “Glass Onion.” (“Knives Out” received several accolades that comedic murder mystery movies rarely receive, including an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.)
In “Glass Onion,” several people from different parts of the U.S. have each received in the mail a mysterious box from American technology billionaire Miles Bron (played by Edward Norton), a pretentious blowhard who loves to name drop and show off his wealth. Miles, a bachelor who lives alone, has made his fortune from co-founding a company called Alpha Industries. The box that he has sent contains an elaborate puzzle that reveals an invitation to go to Miles’ private island home in Greece for a murder mystery party. In the invitation, Miles says that he will play the murder victim.
Benoit is one of the people who receives this box as a mail delivery. Later, when he gets to the party, he finds out in an awkward way that Miles didn’t actually invite Benoit. But now that Benoit is at the party, Miles doesn’t want Benoit to leave, because Benoit is just another celebrity whom Miles can brag about attending one of Miles’ parties. Who sent Benoit that box? That answer is revealed in the movie.
“Glass Onion” begins on May 13, 2020—the day that the boxes are delivered. It’s just a few short months into the COVID-19 pandemic, before a vaccine was available, and when mask-wearing and social distancing were becoming a way of life for people who cared to take those precautions. Some of the party guests are more concerned about the pandemic than others.
Before going to the party, Benoit is seen having a relaxing bath at his home. He’s on a videoconference call with an eclectic group of famous friends, such as Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim (who died in 2021), classical musician Yo-Yo Ma, actress Angela Lansbury (who died in 2022), retired basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and actress Natasha Lyonne, who all make these quick cameos as themselves in the movie. It’s in this scene that viewers see that Benoit likes to play quiz games with his friends during the pandemic.
The only other peek into Benoit’s personal life is when he’s on a videoconference call with a man named Philip (played by Hugh Grant), who seems to know a lot abut Benoit and his personal life. In this scene, viewers can speculate how close Benoit and Philip are to each other and what kind of relationship they might have. Ethan Hawke makes a brief appearance in the role of an unnamed Miles Bron employee, who sprays a COVID-19 medical screener inside each guest’s mouth when they arrive at Miles’ Greek island home. The implication is that this screener can make any possible COVID-19 symptoms disappear, and Miles is so rich, he can afford this medical treatment before it’s legally sold to the public.
Miles’ party guests have been transported by a private boat to the island, whose biggest building is a high-tech mansion that Miles has named Glass Onion. The property’s centerpiece is a giant glass structure shaped like an onion and located inside a glass atrium. (The onion can also be seen as a symbol of the story’s layers that get peeled to reveal the truth. The Beatles song “Glass Onion” is played during the movie’s closing credits.) Inside this nouveau-riche home are dozens of glass sculptures and gaudy indications that Miles is a narcissist, such as a giant portrait painting of a shirtless Miles that makes his physique look more athletic than it really is.
In addition to Benoit, the other people at this party are:
Claire Debella (played by Kathryn Hahn), a progressive Democratic politician who is very image-conscious and currently running for re-election as governor of Connecticut.
Lionel Toussaint (played by Leslie Odom Jr.), an experimental scientist who has recently been testing a mystery product called Klear that Miles wants to sell, but Lionel has been warning Miles not to send this “volatile substance” on a manned airplane flight.
Birdie Jay (played by Kate Hudson), a controversial former supermodel who is now a fashion entrepreneur, who says and does racially offensive things on social media, and who is currently embroiled in a scandal about her fashion company using an exploitative sweatshop in Bangladesh.
Peg (played by Jessica Henwick), Birdie’s always-worried assistant who constantly has to clean up Birdie’s messes and prevent Birdie from doing more damage to Birdie’s reputation and career.
Duke Cody (played by Dave Bautista), a very sexist and gun-toting loudmouth who has become a famous social media influencer and “men’s rights” activist promoting the belief that men are superior to women.
Whiskey (played by Madelyn Cline), Duke’s airheaded girlfriend/social media sidekick who doesn’t seem to be doing anything with her life but being a hanger-on/gold digger/social climber.
Andi Brand (played by Janelle Monáe), Miles’ former business partner, who lost a bitter lawsuit against him, in which she claimed that she came up with most of the ideas for Alpha Industries, and she accused Miles of stealing her share of the company from her.
It’s eventually revealed in the story that Miles, Andi, Claire, Lionel, Birdie and Duke all knew each other from 10 years ago, when they were struggling to “make it” in their chosen professions. Andi was the one who introduced Miles (who was unlikable even back then) to the rest of the group. They all used to hang out at a bar called Glass Onion.
Miles is a big talker who is very good at making people believe that he’s smarter than he really is. For example, he makes up words that don’t exist. His incessant namedropping becomes an ongoing lampoon in the movie. He mentions how he got famous composer Philip Glass to write original music for him. Miles also brags about his other connections to celebrities, such as getting a personal gift from actor/musician Jared Leto and getting invited to a recent birthday party for CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.
As the story goes on, cracks begin to show in many of the party guests’ façades. Birdie wants people to think that she’s confident, but she’s actually very insecure about being perceived as unattractive and a has-been. Peg, who appears to cool-headed and logical, is actually on edge and desperate, because she has spent most of her career with loose cannon Birdie, so anything that destroys Birdie’s career will probably destroy Peg’s career too. Lionel is uncomfortable with being paid by Miles to approve this mystery product Klear that Lionel says is too dangerous to approve.
Claire, who prides herself on being a “take charge” control freak, is worried about how wild this party might get and how it could affect her reputation in this crucial election year. Duke becomes uneasy when he sees that Whiskey is openly flirting with Miles, who does nothing to stop this flirtation and seems to be enjoying it. Andi, who is the most mysterious guest, keeps her distance from the group for a great deal of the movie, and she seems to be tough-minded and occasionally rude, but her emotional vulnerabilities are eventually exposed. When Andi arrives at the island, Miles tells her that he’s surprised that she accepted the invitation.
Of course, Andi appears to be the one who has the biggest grudge against Miles. She is also different from the other guests because she was the only one who didn’t bother to figure out the box puzzle but just smashed the box instead and found the invitation. In a group of characters with larger-than-life personalities, Monáe delivers a complex performance that is one of the highlights of “Glass Onion.”
It would be revealing too much to say who actually gets murderded in “Glass Onion,” but it’s enough to say that the movie has more twists and turns and than “Knives Out.” The comedy in “Glass Onion” has much sharper edges that result in some intentionally hilarious moments. The dialogue and scenarios portray in stinging accuracy what can happen when people try to impress each other too much and wallow in self-centered pretension.
Peg and Benoit are the only people at the party who don’t show any completely obnoxious qualities, for different reasons. Peg, who seems like a decent person overall, is at the party in the capacity of being a subservient employee who’s afraid of losing her job. Benoit, as always, is a keen observer of people and doesn’t really jump into action until there’s a murder to be solved. Craig, who seems born to play the role of this sly and sarcastic private detective, has no doubt found his next big movie franchise after retiring from the role of James Bond.
Also turning in very good performances are Norton as billionaire jerk Miles and Hudson as spoiled celebrity Birdie. These two characters have some of the best lines in “Glass Onion,” which makes them the type of characters whom viewers will love to hate. However, if we’re being honest, Norton and Hudson have played these types of unlikable characters in other movies before, so people might not be as surprised by these performances. Monáe shows a range in “Glass Onion” that she hasn’t had a chance to show in her previous movies. The rest of the principal cast members in “Glass Onion” have characters that are a bit shallow and underdeveloped.
The production design of “Glass Onion” (which was filmed on location in Greece) is quite striking and has more originality than the “old money” mansion setting of “Knives Out.” Johnson’s screenplay and direction for “Glass Onion” are sharp, witty and thoroughly engaging, even when the characters are saying and doing awful things. “Glass Onion” also benefits from having less characters than “Knives Out” had, thereby making the “Glass Onion” story less cluttered than “Knives Out.” Most of all, “Glass Onion” admirably avoids one of the biggest mistakes that most movie sequels make: It doesn’t try to copy its predecessor. To put it in baseball terms: It swings big in its ambitions and hits a home run.
Netflix released “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” for a limited one-week engagement in U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022. The movie will premiere on Netflix on December 23, 2022.
Culture Representation: Set in London, this group of predominantly white male characters (with a few Asians and black people), who are from the middle and upper classes, live on the edges of the law and are primarily motivated by greed and revenge.
Culture Clash: The characters in the “The Gentleman” constantly try to one-up and outsmart each other in their betrayals.
Culture Audience: “The Gentlemen” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about groups of criminals who mix dirty deals with aspirations to belong in the upper echelons of society.
In case people might think British filmmaker Guy Ritchie was turning soft because he directed Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin,” he wants to remind everyone that he’s still capable of making the down’n’dirty British crime capers that made him a hot director, starting with his feature-film debut, 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (And then his ill-fated 10-year marriage to Madonna brought him another kind of fame: tabloid hell.)
With “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie returns to the theme that he seems to like best when he writes and directs a film—men behaving very badly. And who needs to have legal consequences? Ritchie makes it clear in his movies about drug dealers or gangsters that the harsh realities of police busts and courtroom appearances are pesky distractions that shouldn’t really get in the way of the story he really wants to tell, which is from the lawbreakers’ perspectives.
The movie’s title is quite cheeky, since the shady and sleazy characters in “The Gentlemen” act like anything but gentlemen. All of them are violent, and some of the Anglo characters spout racist and anti-Semitic remarks. There’s some content in this movie that’s truly twisted, including a bestiality scene that’s in the movie for laughs. The deviant act is not shown on screen, but what happened and who was involved are made very clear to viewers.
“The Gentlemen” has an all-star cast, but the movie really comes down to the sparring between two of the characters who want to be the alpha male who’ll outsmart them all. The two opponents are Michael “Mickey” Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant), who see themselves as brilliant manipulators who like to play people off each other like pawns in a chess game.
Mickey is an American who’s been a marijuana dealer in the United Kingdom, ever since he was a Rhodes Scholar student at Oxford University. He’s built up his business by renting out large estates worth millions and using the land to build underground areas for growing marijuana. His operation (which spans the entire nation) has grown to the point where he’s ready to sell it, now that marijuana might become legal in the United Kingdom.
Fletcher is a private investigator and aspiring screenwriter, who wants to tell Mickey’s story (and dirty secrets) in a movie screenplay that he’s writing. Fletcher describes the screenplay in vivid detail (which viewers see acted on screen) when he has a tense confrontation with Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (played by Charlie Hunnam). It’s a story-within-a-story conceit that works well in some areas of the movie, but gets too convoluted and messy in other areas. Fletcher tells Ray that the salacious details of the screenplay is Fletcher’s way of extorting £20 million from Mickey if he wants to keep Fletcher from spilling those secrets. Fletcher has found himself in Mickey’s orbit in the first place because Fletcher has been hired by a tabloid editor named Big Dave (payed by Eddie Marsan), who has a grudge against Mickey and wants Fletcher to dig up dirt on Mickey.
Viewers should know before seeing this movie that the hyper-absurd situations in the story basically serve to poke fun at the characters, who mostly think they’re smarter than everyone else in their world. And make no mistake: This is definitely a man’s world, since Michelle Dockery (who plays Mickey’s Cockney-accented loyal wife, Rosalind, nicknamed Roz) is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie—and her screen time in the film is less than 20 minutes. Fletcher describes Roz as the “Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s Cowboy Caesar.” It’s a fairly accurate description, since Roz’s scenes basically revolve around her sexuality, and Mickey’s scenes revolve around him asserting his power.
Mickey’s asking price for his marijuana operation is at least £400 million, and he finds a potential buyer in billionaire Matthew Berger (played by Jeremy Strong), another successful, upper-echelon drug dealer who’s been a longtime rival of Mickey’s. And there are some other sordid characters who are entangled in this spider web of a story. One of them is Dry Eye (played by Henry Golding), a gangster/wannabe mob boss who answers to his real mob boss, Lord George (played by Tom Wu). Their gang is also at odds with Mickey.
Then there’s deadpan henchman Coach (played by Colin Farrell), who’s somewhat of a mentor to a group of young thugs who like to video record their mischief-making and crimes while in disguise, take the footage, make them into rap videos, and post the videos on social media. The young hoodlums make the mistake of breaking into one of Mickey’s marijuana bunkers and stealing some of what’s stashed there, so Coach offers to make amends by doing favors for Mickey.
All of the stars of “The Gentlemen” do a very competent job with an often-verbose script, which requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the fight scenes—especially in an assault-weapon shootout aimed at a vehicle, where someone very unrealistically walks away unscathed. Grant’s Fletcher character has the best lines, and he’s the one who’s the least predictable. But many of the other characters (such as Ray, Dry Eye and Big Eddie) are very two-dimensional, and a few humorous one-liners don’t quite fill the voids in their personalities.
Put another way: Ritchie is no Martin Scorsese when it comes to gangster films. “The Gentlemen” tries to be a little too clever for its own good, but if you’re curious to see Ritchie’s take on a backstabbing criminal subculture, then “The Gentlemen” might be your stinging cup of tea.
STX will release “The Gentlemen” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2020.