Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Gentlemen.
At first glance, Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen is thrilling in the way only a very bad movie with a very good cast can be. The plot is convoluted and unsurprising, and the direction is, well, Guy Ritchie — expect slow motion everything. But the cast? All my best men being their best selves: Matthew McConaughey as a weed kingpin who only wears tweed and is trying to go legit; Jeremy Strong as a hat-enthusiast Jewish billionaire from Oklahoma who says things like “fat wedge,” and is trying to take over Mickey’s business; Henry Golding as a rival gangster named “Dry Eye,” who’s looking for his piece of the pie; Colin Farrell as an Irish boxing coach with a closet full of plaid trackies and a posse of impressionable students; Hugh Grant embracing a truly bananas Cockney accent as a shady private investigator; and Charlie Hunnam, who has found his ideal glasses shape, as Mickey’s right-hand man.
Ritchie is a director of extremes, whose resume boasts spectacular highs (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and disastrous lows (Swept Away, King Arthur: Legend of The Sword), with very little in between. The Gentlemen is a movie with so much garrulous swagger that it’s hard not to gleefully lean into its charms.
I wanted to love this man movie. I was ready to love this man movie. Ritchie, not particularly known for his complex take on women characters, even managed to throw me a bone with Rosalind (played with cool grit by Michelle Dockery, who makes the most of a small part), Mickey’s roguish wife who owns and runs a high end car dealership for women. And then came the attempted rape scene.
It happens towards the end of the film, when (spoiler alert!) Dry Eye, whose offer to buy Mickey’s business has been soundly refused, tries to get back at him by going after what he cares about most: his wife. But when he shows up at Rosalind’s garage, she’s unfazed. She has a gun, and as she soon proves, she knows how to use it. Enraged and with no more bodyguard goons to absorb the punches for him, Dry Eye pounces, and an altercation with Rosalind ends with her being slammed on the desk. Ritchie could easily have left off there — a wife guy like Mickey doesn’t take kindly to a dude beating up the woman he loves. But no, to add insult to injury, the camera pans down to show Dry Eye starting to unbuckle his belt as he forces Rosalind’s legs open. The implication is clear: he’s about to rape her. That’s when Mickey enters the room to play the hero, killing Dry Eye, and rescuing his wife.
Listen, I get it. Gangsters are not good people. But why — why — is rape still being used as a banal plot device? Why can’t we have a fun man movie that also doesn’t feel the need to violently attack its one woman? Even worse, the scene — which comes out of nowhere — frames a woman’s potential sexual assault not as a violation of her personhood, but as a way to embarass and humiliate her husband. In other words, the movie is concerned with how it makes Mickey feel, not Rosalind.
And then there’s the fact that Dry Eye — one of the only substantial characters of color in this film — is the one framed as an attempted rapist. It’s one of many examples of the movie’s insidious reliance on racial stereotypes; all the other bad guys adhere to a code of honor, but not him. As Katie Walsh points out in the Chicago Tribune, there’s a difference between portraying people who are racist, and endorsing their views. But with that scene, Ritchie blurs the lines.
It’s frustrating to feel like a movie you really want to enjoy doesn’t care about you. The Gentlemen could have been a great movie. The elements are there: Farrell, in particular, gets the best character introduction scene I’ve seen in a long time. But Ritchie’s persistent use of outdated and problematic tropes — vaguely queer-coded villains, racist depictions of minorities, women as plot footnotes — results in everyone who isn’t a cis white alpha male having to play mental gymnastics in order to get in on the fun. And no matter how much I live for a good plaid trackie and bad boys with perfect line delivery, one-sided love affairs quickly get boring once the initial luster fades.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).