‘The Gentlemen’ Is A Safe Space For Men
Guy Ritchie’s new movie is for dudes who want to pretend the last 25 years didn’t happen
I could argue that men don’t need a safe space because all of human civilization is a safe space for men. Heterosexual cisgender men are still firmly in charge. Unless there’s been a sudden and historic shift in power? Did something happen during my nap? Have women suddenly taken over Wall Street?
Men are in no danger of being run into the sea. A woman calling out a man for being sexist on social media is not a purge. Being forced to take responsibility for the words that fall out of your mouth is not oppression. My point is: men are safe.
There is a counterpoint, of course, and this is it: poor men we don’t get to walk around the world our grandfathers built with our genitals hanging out of our open zippers.
You see, there are men who feel unsafe. Some men should feel unsafe, preferably behind bars. But there are men, many of whom have podcasts, who feel as if they’re being persecuted. They are threatened by new social rules that demand men not blurt out the first things that pop into their minds.
Who could possibly be offended by a request to be more thoughtful and considerate of others? Well, the answer is men. Men should be polite. They should listen to others. If you want to hurt someone’s feelings with a sexist remark or homophobic slur at least have a reason for being an asshole. Put some thought in it. Commit to hate don’t flirt with it. Let everyone see who you truly are otherwise, as I have written, listen to those who aren’t like you.
I don’t think these requests are an imposition. There’s a new social contract and it says “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” But there are men who believe being asked to watch what they say is like having their faces pushed into barb-wire muzzles. Dramatic blokes, they are.
But let’s say you’re a man who accepts that things change. That injustice exists. You know the system was built for men, by men. White men. That there are people who win gender and racial lotteries and there are those who don’t. It doesn’t take great intelligence to understand the world is unfair and that human beings don’t have to accept that. So if you’re a man who wants to have his mind opened the good news is there are plenty of movies you can see. Try Little Women!
If a remake of a beloved book about female power isn’t your speed, Bad Boys For Life is a movie that understands the complicated politics of the modern world. It’s got explosions but also moments of vulnerability between dudes. It’s not the most forward-thinking movie of the year but its heart is in the right place.
But if you’re a man who wants to watch a movie that’s a little like snorting a bump of toxic masculinity off a key there is, also, some good news. There’s a movie that just opened that was made specifically for you. You lucky bastard.
Guy Ritchie’s new crime caper comedy The Gentlemen is a rude, star-studded safe space for men. For two hours men can sit in the dark and laugh at slapstick violence, casual racism, and vulgarities like the ‘c-word’ spit out with such speed and volume you’d think they were loaded into the ammunition belt of a heavy machine gun.
The Gentlemen is good old-fashioned fun for men. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a “remember when” conversation between balding jocks at a high school reunion. And director-writer Guy Ritchie understands those aging has-beens because he’s afraid of becoming one. Hell, I’m afraid of getting older, too, but you don’t see me complaining about “political correctness.” What was funny a quarter of a century ago isn’t necessarily funny now and it probably wasn’t funny then, either. The Gentlemen is a middle-aged guy who awkwardly tells off-color jokes to his wife’s friends because he doesn’t have any of his own.
As most men of a certain age know, Ritchie makes farces about crooks with funny nicknames. These movies take place in England, an island of barbarians. He’s what you’d get if you wrapped the Coen Brothers, Loony Tunes, and old Maxim magazines in a puff pastry and baked it like a proper beef Wellington.
His past movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are about louche laddies down on their luck. There are off-handed references to Brexit and the UK’s stringent gun laws in The Gentlemen, but to Ritchie England may as well just be part of New Jersey.
After all, this movie is mostly about the preposterous premise that the UK marijuana black market is run by Matthew McConaughey, a lanky American cowboy philosopher whose subterranean weed farms are hidden underneath the estates of royals who need the drug money.
But Guy Ritchie is most like Quentin Tarantino… if Quentin Tarantino didn’t take himself so seriously. Quentin Tarantino has spent his career writing and directing art house homages to B-movies and Guy Ritchie has spent his career just making B-movies. (He also makes Disney movies but a man has to pay his bills.)
I love low-budget genre movies, especially the under-the-radar exploitation revenge flicks of the ’70s and ’80s. Those movies were tasteless. They were also poorly made and fearless and occasionally brilliant. They are forgivable because they are history.
The Gentlemen is offensive, that is for certain. But mostly it’s naughty. An excuse for up-and-coming old-timers to giggle at gags that aren’t funny anymore. But I don’t think Ritchie cares that the world has moved on. This one is for the boys. The last hurrah unless there’s a The Gentlemen 2 (co-produced by the AARP.)
I don’t want you to think I’m impervious to Ritchie’s charms. I’m not perfect. The Gentlemen is fun in the way childish misbehaving is fun, like farting in a church. It’s a move that will be loved by men and fans of Guy Ritchie, who are mostly men who love his macho bare-knuckle ballets.
The plot of The Gentlemen is almost beside the point since the movie is just a series of wordy confrontations between handsome gangsters that sometimes boil over into violence.
The titular characters of The Gentlemen are gentlemen in the sense that they’re soft-spoken and stylish. They drink expensive Scotch and eat expensive steaks. They don’t deal destructive drugs like heroin. Marijuana is civilized. They love their wives. They help friends track down their runaway daughters. Colin Ferrel is a delightful gentleman.
Oh, also, gentlemen love to talk. Gentlemen lo-o-ove soliloquies.
The movie opens with a shocking murder and then immediately steers hard into a dramatic retelling of what’s happened by Hugh Grant, having a good time playing a gay private investigator. He is one of two hilariously swishy poofs in The Gentlemen, the other played by Jeremy Strong.
On numerous occasions, Grant comes on too hipster consigliere Charlie Hunnam, who brushes them off. In 2019, straight men are enlightened, you see because we are not threatened by cartoon fops.
The homophobia may be low-voltage but the racism is *chef’s kiss* vintage.
Once upon a time, in the ’90s, white men thought minorities had it so good they needed to be made fun of a little. Tarantino’s infamous ‘dead n-word storage’ scene in Pulp Fiction is a perfect example: just white dudes reminding non-white dudes America is still their house, with a playful wink.
There is a scene that thinks it’s clever by trying to explain the difference between insulting someone who is black versus insulting all black people. It thinks it's clever but guess what? It’s not.
The racism in The Gentlemen is mostly against Asians, and it features many tired racial stereotypes. Here’s a classic: Asians cannot pronounce one letter in their second language, which is hilarious to white men who struggle with pronouncing whole words in their birth language. All stereotypes are born from insecurities and white dudes have a real love/hate relationship with everyone who isn’t a white dude.
I laughed at the bold immaturity of it all. But when my generation of men is dead they’ll bury our sense of humor with us. A coffin is a safe space, too.