Film critics will accept plenty of flaws in our movie anti-heroes.
Professional hit men? Sure, as long as they love dogs as much as John Wick does. Strippers? Assuming they drug and steal from men to battle the patriarchy, no problem.
Heaven help films that show shouting racial stereotypes, though. We’re learning that with the release of “The Gentlemen,” a film beyond the pale for select critics.
The new movie finds director Guy Ritchie going back to his cinematic roots. The mind behind “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch” and “Rockanrolla” casts Matthew McConaughey as an American-born drug lord trying to get out of the marijuana game. A group of unsavory types, including one played by Hugh Grant, want to squeeze him for all he’s worth.
British Gangster 101, right?
Not according to The Guardian. The left-wing paper’s film critic shreds the movie for the “casual racism” spat out by … well, we are talking about blood-thirsty gangsters, right?
Ritchie’s signature sweary patter is enjoyable, except for the racism….By Ritchie’s logic, white weed kingpins are entrepreneurs with the moral high ground; Asian heroin-pushers are “the killers of worlds”; and junkies are rich kids who “choose squalor” and are “drowning in white liberal guilt”.
The New Yorker’s critic knows the film is purposely pushing our buttons, and he takes the bait, while hating himself for doing it.
People snicker at an Asian guy named Phuc — isn’t that genius? — and Fletcher even tries out his old-school impersonation of Oriental speech. Matthew, a billionaire, is referred to as “the Jew.” Grimmest of all is a head-to-head in a gym. One man calls another “You black [c-word],” whereupon the two of them stand there and discuss the phrase, weighing up exactly how racist it is.
Ritchie, no doubt, would argue that these are fictional figures talking, and that he is merely representing regular chaffing and chat … But make no mistake, “The Gentlemen” is a nasty piece of work, topped off with a layer of homophobia … In short, the movie is baiting us, praying that we will take offense, and challenging us to flinch. First person to whine is a wuss.
We’ll leave it at that.
Rolling Stone also clutched its pearls over the language while admiring the sartorial elegance on display.
Think of this as a posh GQ spread with bullets, and it feels so much more palatable. (Except for the questionable racial digs in the name of laughs and the lisping villains. Those still feel noxious.)
Slant Magazine takes the attack even further, suggesting Ritchie is racist for not giving extras more screen time, let alone rich inner lives.
The Chinese slaves working underground on his hydroponics are rushed past in tracking shots so swift that you may wonder if Ritchie is wilfully sweeping them under the rug, or if he hasn’t noticed their personhood.
The uber-woke Indiewire slams the banter here while evoking … Brexit?
Fail to snort, however, and you might notice how reactionary the banter is. Mickey’s whinge about hikers chimes with the image of Ritchie the aspirant country squire; a crack Fletcher aims at Chinese mobster Henry Golding — “ricence to kill” — intends to signal racist character, but also feels like a low blow intended to nudge an easy laugh out of those bulletheaded bruisers who’ve felt empowered by recent developments in the Brexit saga.
Too many critics use their reviews to lash out at those who disagree with their worldview.
Political correctness is about power, first and foremost. In the arts, though, it exists to stamp out ugliness … but only in certain situations. If a movie depicted a Melania Trump lookalike who said the most monstrous things imaginable, no social justice type would rush to attack the movie.
Instead, they’d cheer and root for more.
So why attack gangsters for having less than elevated world views? It doesn’t make much sense, but the woke mob rarely does.