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Schultz reviews: 'The Gentlemen' and 'The Turning'

Schultz reviews: 'The Gentlemen' and 'The Turning'

Carl Schultz



“The Gentlemen”   Distributed by STX Films, 113 Minutes, Rated R, Released January 24, 2020:


If you examine his motion picture resume, there seem to be at least three different versions of filmmaker Guy Ritchie.  


One version is the director-for-hire, the successful filmmaker behind such box office successes as Disney’s blockbuster live-action reimaging of the animated classic “Aladdin” in 2019, the contemporary updating of “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey Jr. in 2009, and its 2011 sequel “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”  


Another version of Guy Ritchie is the radical revisionist filmmaking auteur behind such resounding box office failures as the 2002 remake of the Italian masterpiece “Swept Away,” the 2015 adaptation of the classic 1960s television series  “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” the muddled and grimy 2017 retelling of the Camelot legend.


The third version of Guy Ritchie, the one his legions of loyal and devoted fans cherish, is the writer and director of smart, stylish, and fast-moving British crime films.  “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” in 1998 and “Snatch” in 2000 established Ritchie’s reputation as the filmmaker behind the most swift, irreverent, and intelligent little comedy crime capers since the days of England’s Ealing comedies of the 1940s and 1950s--the legendary films starring Alec Guinness, with titles such as “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and  “The Ladykillers.”


That’s precisely the version of Guy Ritchie his fans are hoping for with the release of “The Gentlemen,” the new action comedy from STX Films.  Written and directed by Ritchie from a screen story formulated by Ritchie in collaboration with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, in “The Gentlemen,” social-climbing American-born, Oxford-educated millionaire marijuana baron Mickey Pearson seeks to expand his British interests by growing an especially potent strain of the illegal plant--an unlikely hybrid called Skunk-a-Mola White Widow Super Cheese--in underground greenhouses hidden on ancestral lands leased from cash-poor aristocrats.


Sensing eventual British legalization of recreational marijuana, Pearson simultaneously seeks to sell his expanding cannabis empire for $400 million to double-dealing American billionaire Matthew Berger, in order to retire peacefully to the English countryside with his beloved British-born wife Rosalind.  But first the enterprising Pearson needs to defend his extensive  business interests from hostile takeover attempts from an array of colorful international criminal organizations.


Unfortunately, it all sounds funnier than it is.  With its combination of crime comedy and social satire, “The Gentlemen” might satisfy fans of Guy Ritchie’s earlier work, but will likely leave newcomers cold.  The picture’s Cockney-flavored slang, often delivered at a breathless pace, will render much of the film’s plot incomprehensible to American ears.  And in creating a host of unsavory characters with dishonorable intentions, placing them into often graphically violent situations, and filling the script with crude, expletive-laden dialogue, Ritchie crafts a world with plenty of attitude, but no heroes, no humanity, no warmth...and nobody to cheer for.  


Often pretentious and sometimes obnoxious, the picture contains elements from Ritchie’s “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” but none of their brilliance.  The movie is about as dramatically viable as any of Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” pictures, but at other times resembles nothing more than a combination of 1995’s “Get Shorty” and 1960’s “The Grass is Greener” (no pun intended), filtered through the sensibilities of Quentin Tarantino.  With style to spare but little heart and no soul, “The Gentlemen” relies instead on the considerable amount of goodwill generated by its megawatt cast of Hollywood superstars.  


“The Gentlemen” includes performances by Matthew McConaughey as the American marijuana baron Mickey Pearson, a bearded and genteel Charlie Hunnam as Pearson’s capable assistant Raymond, rising matinee idol Henry Golding as the unsympathetic Chinese criminal underboss Dry Eye, Michelle Dockery of “Downton Manor” fame as Pearson’s business executive wife Rosalind, Colin Farrell as an Irish gangleader with designs on Pearson’s empire, and Hugh Grant in an atypical role as a seedy and smarmy private investigator who fits the pieces of the plot together with a notion to sell the story to a Hollywood studio.  Grant seems to be basing his fast-talking characterization on British comic Ricky Gervais.


Still, “The Gentlemen” is receiving admiring reviews for the critics, including an approval rating of 72% from Rotten Tomatoes, against a weighted average of 51% from Metacritic.  Rotten Tomatoes in its review reports, “It may not win writer-director Guy Ritchie many new converts, but for those already attuned to the filmmaker’s brash wavelength, ‘The Gentlemen’ stands tall.”  Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore awarded the picture an average grade of B-plus.


Released to 2165 theaters across the United States and Canada, “The Gentlemen” earned a little over $11 million in box office receipts over its opening weekend, enough to score a fourth-place finish in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten behind the returning “Bad Boys for Life” in first place with $34 million, the historical drama “1917” in second with $15.8 million, and the family adventure “Dolittle” in third with $12.5 million.


Rated R for violence, language concerns, sexual references, and drug use throughout, “The Gentlemen” is also attracting a measure of unwanted criticism, with a number of reviewers noting strains of anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism, and sexism in Ritchie’s portrayal of ethnic- and gender-based stereotypes.




“The Turning”   Distributed by Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released January 24, 2020:


Early 20th Century author and literary realist Henry James is given a 21st Century makeover and pushed through the standard template of Blumhouse Pictures-like horror in “The Turning,” a co-production of Universal Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks SKG and the eighth motion picture adaptation of James’ 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw.”


Vaguely set somewhere in the eastern United States during the early 1990s, in “The Turning” disaffected young schoolteacher Kate Mandell is hired as a private live-in tutor and governess for lonely and precocious little orphan Flora Fairchild, who lives alone with devoted housekeeper Mrs. Grose at her family’s palatial ancestral estate, the kind of place where the sun never shines.


After a promising beginning with her new student, Kate finds she might be in over her head when Flora’s teenage brother Myles arrives home unexpectedly, expelled from an exclusive and pricey boarding school for allegedly attempting to strangle another student.  And as the indulged, entitled, and spoiled Myles develops an inappropriate interest in the comely young schoolteacher, she eventually learns that the boy was unusually close to the estate’s late stableman Peter Quint, an abusive brute who was killed in a drunken riding accident...and whose ghostly spirit might still be haunting the estate.


Reminiscent of the grand old gothic horror pictures produced by the British Hammer Studios during the 1960s, “The Turning” is three-quarters of a good horror picture--an honest, relatively straightforward literary adaptation that never deviates from its course or pretends to be anything other than precisely what it is:  A crackerjack little ghost story meant the scare the wits out of the audience.


Directed by Floria Sigismondi from a script adapted from James’ novella by twin screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes, “The Turning” has almost immaculate horror credentials--filmmaker Sigismondi is a veteran of television’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “American Gods” and the Hayes brothers are the writers behind 2005’s “House of Wax” reboot, 2007’s “The Reaping,” and 2013’s “The Conjuring,” as well as its 2016 sequel.


Sigismondi and the Hayes brothers work as a team to add clever details and ingenious touches to James’ story and mix in enough quick cuts and jump scares to satisfy any fan of contemporary horror.  There are some rough spots and red herrings, and the picture shows signs of having been trimmed to its lean 94-minute running time from a longer and possibly more comprehensive cut.  But in spite of a weak fourth quarter and an infuriatingly ambiguous and unsatisfying finale, “The Turning” is still effective enough to stand alongside such standards of literary-based movie horror as 1945’s “The Body Snatcher and 1963’s “The Haunting.”


The cast includes Mackenzie Davis as Kate, Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” and “It” fame as Myles, Barbara Marten as the creepiest housekeeper since Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” and Brooklynn Prince as little Flora Fairchild.  With her young/old countenance and knowing manner, the 10-year-old Prince resembles a pint-sized Lillian Gish.   That’s Joely Richardson, the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and British filmmaker Tony Richardson and an accomplished performer in her own right, as Kate’s emotionally disturbed mother.


Playing in 2571 theaters across the United States and Canada, “The Turning” was expected by distributor Universal Pictures to earn up to $9 million during its opening weekend, but ended the period with $7.3 in accumulated box office receipts, finishing in sixth place in the Box Office Mojo Top Ten.


Filmed in Ireland at the landmark Killruddery House estate in County Wicklow and originally intended as a project for director Steven Spielberg, “The Turning” is rated PG-13 for disturbing implications involving ghosts, and a scene suggesting sexual assault.

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