The Films of Guy Ritchie
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Snatch. (January 3/06)
Featuring a cast that includes Jason Statham, Dennis Farina, and Brad Pitt, Snatch. quickly reveals itself to be an ideal follow-up to writer/director Guy Ritchie's debut effort, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The filmmaker imbues Snatch. with the same sort of wildly creative style as its predecessor, while upping the ante in terms of complexity and inventiveness. With its emphasis on interlocking storylines and multiple characters, the movie is virtually impossible to summarize; it's clear right from the outset that Ritchie expects a reasonable amount of concentration from the viewer, with the penalty for drifting off abject confusion. There's so much going on, in fact, that it takes a good twenty minutes for the film to really get going; up until that point, the relentless dialogue/narration and complicated storyline is excessive almost to the point of annoyance. Having said that, there's no denying that the movie is a lot of fun once it hits its stride - something that can be attributed to Ritchie's obvious skill as a filmmaker and the exceedingly entertaining performances from a thoroughly game cast (Pitt and Statham, in particular, are a lot of fun).
Swept Away (October 7/02)
Based on Lina Wertmüller's 1974 movie of the same name, Swept Away follows spoiled socialite Amber (Madonna) as she embarks on a yacht trip with her husband (Bruce Greenwood's Tony) and four friends - with problems ensuing as Amber finds herself forced to become brutish deckhand Giuseppe's (Adriano Giannini) slave after the two characters are shipwrecked on a deserted island. It's an incredibly bizarre premise that's utilized to consistently underwhelming effect by writer/director Guy Ritchie, and although the filmmaker does deserve some credit for going so far out of his way to avoid political correctness, the pervasive lack of compelling elements cements Swept Away's place as an entirely needless (and frequently aggravating) piece of work. It's easy enough to see why certain viewers might find the film offensive - the basic idea here is that all a woman really needs is someone to dominate them - but the real problem is that it's just not interesting. Ritchie's decision to abandon the go-for-broke visual style of his first two films is exacerbated by the hopelessly underdeveloped nature of the protagonists, with Madonna's aggressively lackluster performance ensuring that Amber never quite becomes the sympathetic figure that she's presumably meant to be. It's only within a splashy musical number that Madonna actually manages to acquit herself reasonably well, while Giannini (impossibly heavy accent notwithstanding) does a comparatively stellar job as the purposefully repellent Giuseppe. But the performances are besides the point, really. Amber's transformation from bitchy and inconsiderate to earthy and obedient is triggered by Giuseppe's horrible treatment of her, which effectively forces the viewer to wonder if Ritchie is in fact advocating Giuseppe's abhorrent behavior. Is Swept Away supposed to be a fable? There's never any indication of that, which makes the actions of the two characters completely impossible to relate to. That's the major flaw in Swept Away - not the simplistic script, shoddy character development, or poor acting - and it's enough to earn the movie a place among the worst films of the year. (That being said, it's impossible not to derive some enjoyment out of the audience's reaction to some of this stuff - ie after Giuseppe almost rapes Amber and she returns a little later to kiss his feet, several women in my screening stood up and walked out accompanied by applause from other irritated patrons).
Click here for review.
Sherlock Holmes (January 27/10)
Sherlock Holmes' massive failure is especially disappointing given the multitude of positive elements with which it's been equipped, as the movie, armed with several stand-out performances and Guy Ritchie's expectedly kinetic directorial choices, generally seems as though it should be far more entertaining than it actually is. The film - which follows Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic creation (Robert Downey Jr) as he and partner Watson (Jude Law) attempt to stop a ruthless foe (Mark Strong's Lord Blackwood) from executing a predictably sinister plan - moves at an interminably sluggish pace that's exacerbated by the less-than-enthralling nature of its storyline (ie the central mystery is simply not interesting in the slightest), and there's subsequently little doubt that Sherlock Holmes is at its best when focused on the heroes' comedic (and often irresistibly mean-spirited) banter (with the palpable chemistry between Downey Jr and Law certainly cementing this feeling). The uniformly strong performances can only carry the proceedings so far, however, as Ritchie's ongoing efforts at injecting Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg's lifeless screenplay with bursts of energy fall completely flat (and this is to say nothing of the filmmaker's reliance on grimy, downright unappealing visuals, which have presumably been designed to mask the persistent use of sets that couldn't possibly look more like sets). It's a shame, really, given that Downey Jr does a superb job of staying true to Doyle's work while at the same time offering up his own take on the 122-year-old character, with the actor's effortlessly charming turn standing as Sherlock Holmes' only consistently stirring attribute - thus cementing the movie's place as a sporadically amusing yet thoroughly tedious misfire of nigh disastrous proportions.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (November 27/17)
Based on the 1960s television series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) as they reluctantly team up to stop a mysterious criminal organization from distributing nuclear weapons. It's actually quite remarkable just how entertaining and compelling The Man from U.N.C.L.E. remains for much of its running time, as filmmaker Guy Ritchie doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to big-budget, over-the-top extravaganzas - with the movie, unlike Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, taking the time to establish the central characters and scenario in which they find themselves. It's clear, then, that the film benefits substantially from the strong work by leads Cavill and Hammer, as both actors deliver engaging, charismatic work that's heightened by the genuine chemistry between their respective characters (ie the film certainly succeeds as one of the better and more memorable buddy comedies as of late). Ritche and cowriter Lionel Wigram deliver a narrative that contains a solid balance of exposition, action, and even romance (stemming from the budding relationship between Hammer's Kuryakin and Alicia Vikander's Gaby Teller), and although the movie is predictably just a little too long (eg 116 minutes is probably a little excessive for a story like this), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. remains a cut above most similarly-themed blockbusters and it's ultimately a shame that the film underperformed at the box office (ie if ever there was a movie crying out for an ongoing series, it's this one).
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Guy Ritchie’s transformation from gritty, innovative filmmaker to by-the-numbers purveyor of explosions continues with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, with the progressively uninvolving narrative shadowing Charlie Hunnam’s title character as he attempts to defeat a villainous ruler (Jude Law’s Vortigern) bent on total domination. It’s worth noting, admittedly, that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, before it becomes a colossal bore, boasts an impressively engrossing initial stretch, as Ritchie launches straight into the action with a broadly-conceived yet oddly compelling opening that’s immediately followed by a somewhat exhilarating credits sequence detailing Arthur’s rough-and-tumble childhood and adolescence. The originality of this portion of the proceedings is ultimately in no way indicative of the blandness that comes after, as the movie quickly segues into a midsection that feels like an almost prototypical example of an origin story – with the progressively less-than-captivating vibe compounded by Hunnam’s competent yet charisma-free turn as the iconic protagonist. There’s little doubt, as well, that the emphasis on the characters’ relentless plotting and scheming wreaks havoc on King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s momentum, as it remains impossible to care about the success (or failure) of any of the movie’s many one-dimensional figures and the viewer can’t help but wish Ritchie would just get on with it already. (Not that the film fares much better when stuff does happen, as Ritchie infuses the many action sequences with an ADHD-like perspective that drains them of any and all energy.) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is, in the end, a movie designed to alienate virtually every single audience member it comes across, with the film’s pervasive needlessness eventually canceling out its few positive attributes and confirming its place as an especially soulless contemporary blockbuster.