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The Impact of Technological Innovations on Sports Betting in Colorado: A Primer
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‘The Gentlemen’ hides its message behind thinly-veiled irony

If movie directors were painters, Guy Ritchie would be Jackson Pollock; his films are not so much films as they are violent, chaotic whirlwinds of the components of cinema all splashed onto a screen in a manner that is commanding and attractive at first sight but that reveals little depth or intentionality when one takes a closer look.

We’ll give Pollock a pass for this, as painting is a medium that doesn’t demand more than a passing attraction. You don’t devote two hours of your life to sitting in a dark room watching a painting.

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The movie medium, on the other hand, requires the audience’s time and commitment and therefore has an obligation to deliver, at least to some capacity or another, something more than cheap thrills. At least, if they’re going to tout themselves for their artistry, the way Ritchie’s films do, they have this responsibility.

But there is nothing about Ritchie’s film that is particularly awe-inspiring, resonant or impactful apart from a unique “Guy Ritchie” feel. The director’s work is a sleek and stylish mishmash of everything that film theorists, historians, critics and scholars have distinguished over the years as the key ingredients for “quality cinema.” But ironically, the film excludes the one thing that makes a movie matter — a point.

That’s all we want from movies. Even when it comes in the form of shaky, handheld camera shots in “The Blair Witch Project” or the grainy Super-8 textures of “Pink Flamingos,” we don’t mind because the technical aspects are still in service of a story, and that leaves us as changed people.

Ritchie’s films, however, do not do this. Instead, they take all the techniques developed by other directors that have proven to be successful means of conveying a film’s meaning to an audience and use them to tell a story that is overtly and deliberately meaningless. 

This smugly self-aware lack of purpose and direction is on full display in the director’s latest offering, “The Gentlemen,” which sees Ritchie dressing up his brand of recycled stock nihilism at the core of his other seminal works — 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and 2000’s “Snatch.”

(Ritchie’s films) take all the techniques developed by other directors that have proven to be successful means of conveying a film’s meaning to an audience and use them to tell a story that is overtly and deliberately meaningless.”

The story follows Mickey Pearson, a suave and successful drug lord who’s decided to sell his mega-operation, which uses the estates of wealthy British lords as fronts for its underground grass farms, to the sly and stone-faced Matthew Berger.

Of course, what he doesn’t know is that Berger is in cahoots with Chinese heroin trafficker Dry Eye to double-cross Pearson by raiding his pot farms. He also doesn’t know that his every move is being watched and recorded by a cheeky little tabloid journalist assigned to getting dirt on Pearson after the crime magnate insulted his editor at a party.

It’s a perfect setup for some quality cinema, but it’s bogged down by Ritchie’s overt, over-the-top cynicism and desperate, manufactured irony.

Unlike other filmmakers who are noted for their cynical, nihilistic directorial styles — most notably Quentin Tarantino and Joel and Ethan Coen, among others — it seems that Ritchie’s purpose from the outset is to make a movie that has no point.

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Directors like Tarantino and the Coen brothers are able to capture a distinct tone in their films, which despite not being fully realized by the film’s end is nevertheless present throughout the movie. Their films are still led by a clear sense of purpose. It’s just not a purpose that is too complex to be clearly or explicitly defined.

Meanwhile, everything in Ritchie’s film is intended purely to negate any hint of purpose that any other aspect of the film might suggest. His characters’ darkly ironic comments and dialogue are never in service of their needs in the scene, and they don’t carry weighty subtexts the way that the writings of Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese do.

Instead, they seem to serve as simple reminders to the audience that these characters don’t particularly care about the perilous situations they’re in, and therefore we needn’t worry too much.

To his credit, Ritchie executes the completely bonkers plot with technical brilliance, and the whole film is nothing short of a feast for the eyes. The cinematography, production design, sharp editing and adrenaline-pumping score weave together beautifully.

But for all of its aesthetic brilliance, the story doesn’t build into anything, the characters are mere vehicles for Ritchie’s trademark nonsensical dialogue and the whole thing adds up to nothing more than a movie that’s fun to pat yourself on the back for being able to analyze, but it fails to accomplish anything in the way of actual artistic intention. 

It starts as a random, Pollock-esque splatter of characters, ideas and storylines, and it ends the exact same way, as if to say to its audience “Joke’s on you for being stupid enough to sit through this thing.” 

And the audience accepts this taunting because of the film’s technical brilliance and our ability to recognize, understand and appreciate it. It massages our egos enough to make us feel as if we’re somehow in on the joke. But we’re not because we still leave the theater unfazed and unchanged.

“The Gentleman” is a film that insults the power and purpose of movies. Movies can make us feel things at a depth other art forms can’t even begin to grasp. They are not mere hodgepodges of set technical, stylistic tricks spliced together purely for the sake of being analyzed. They are a medium through which we can express ideas and feelings that cannot be communicated or felt via conventional forms of communication. 

Movies like “The Gentlemen,” while attractive, reduce cinema down to its tangible elements rather than expanding on those elements to create something new and unique. Thus, they negate the value of the form to which they belong, insulting the audience members who come to see them and providing them with nothing more than shallow self-satisfaction in lieu of actual profundity or artistic insight.

It’s an energetic, exciting, captivating waste of two hours but a waste of two hours nonetheless.

Scotty Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus.

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