Born on September 10, 1968, Guy Ritchie was once looked to as the British Quentin Tarantino for his energetic crime films, snappy dialogue and pop culture soundtracks. The 90s were booming with independent filmmakers looking to make their mark, and the success and influence of films like “Goodfellas” and “Pulp Fiction” especially left a trail of influences and imitators.
Ritchie was one of the few who took that influence and made it his own with his early films that were steeped in British flavour and stylings. And although his career reached heavy lows soon after, which many people attribute to his union with a certain pop star, there’s no denying that Ritchie is a great filmmaker if backed with the right material.
It may be disappointing that for the last couple of years he’s been a director for hire working on big budget adaptations, but even Tarantino moved on from crime films after “Jackie Brown” while Ritchie stayed with his trademarks past their prime. In fact, he’s never written any original films that weren’t steeped in crime.
His films always have an infectious energy that pulls you in even if the story doesn’t, that same infectious British energy that directors Edgar Wright and Danny Boyle possess. With nine films to date, Ritchie’s filmography can be pretty hit or miss, but there are some gems to be found.
9. Swept Away (2002)
It’s interesting that some director/actress couples who work together sometimes fail, and seeing this remake of Lina Wertmuller’s far superior film proves why. The critical backlash made Madonna (Ritchie’s then wife) swear to never act again, which could be a good thing depending on who you ask. A box office bomb and Razzie Award darling, they should hand out awards to any who’s able to finish this shipwreck in one sitting.
Shipwrecked on an island with his boss, a rich, self-centred millionaire’s wife named Amber (Madonna), first mate Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini) turns the tables on her when she has to rely on him for food (among other things), which he uses to make her serve him, which ends one of the most unconvincing from hate-to-love romances.
There isn’t a single enjoyable thing about the film aside from the locations, so kudos to Mother Nature for that. None of the excitement or visual flair Ritchie showed in his other films is present. The script does the actors no favours. Madonna may be an alright actor depending on what she’s given, but the script writes Amber as a hateful, evil, self-centred and irritating character and Madonna embraces all this, going “full retard” (well, not full retard but full annoying).
By the time her character does a 180, it’s hard to care because there isn’t a redeeming thing about her and it’s hard to believe her change, her feelings or anyone falling for her. This brings to Giannini’s dull performance as well.
Ritchie is at his most uncharacteristic and boring and any other synonym that goes along with it. The heart, depth or politics of the original are nowhere to be found and what we get is a paper-thin vanity project that’s right up there (or down there) with “Gigli”.
8. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Continuing Ritchie’s ‘successful’ relationship with Warner Bros., “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” looks pretty and features some great performances, but that’s pretty much it.
Based on the 60’s television series, the film follows Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin, two agents from the United States and Russia who have to work together at the height of the Cold War to face a greater threat. They first need to find the daughter of a missing German scientist, keep her safe, and help her contact her relatives to understand the threat the globe may face.
The film is the classic example of style over substance and is a huge disappointment for what could’ve been accomplished. Ritchie’s directing seems off from the opening moments. His quick pace usually adds to the excitement of the film and characters but here it just trudges along on auto mode. He speeds past interesting scenarios and misses the chance to fully transport the viewer.
While there are some beautiful locations and costumes, the film gets pretty repetitive and boring as it moves on. Some of the masterful action sequences ultimately add nothing to the overall picture. The performances are okay but the talented cast has nothing to really work with. There’s no chemistry between Cavill and Hammer and the script may try to make their partnership more interesting than it really is.
Overall, Ritchie seems to be going through the motions on this one and it shows in the finished product that should’ve been better than what we ultimately get.
7. Revolver (2005)
After the terrible “Swept Away”, Ritchie returned to his crime films with Jason Statham and his full set of hair in a revenge thriller that’s more mature and ambiguous than his earlier classics.
While serving a seven year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit for crime boss Macha (Ray Liotta), Jake Green (Statham) acquires an unbeatable formula which he uses successfully to get wealthy once he gets out. He turns his attention toward getting revenge from Macha, who’s put out a hit on him, and is offered protection by two brothers who plan to acquire Macha’s empire.
Going into this film one expects the return to the witty black comedy and all out craziness of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” but what we get is a more meditative film that’s less engaging and tough to understand. There isn’t as much violence or action as those two or any memorable characters aside from Mark Strong’s scene stealing performance.
Even the coolness of Statham can’t save the film from being a dull. The problem comes with Liotta’s overacting in a thong and tanning booth, and Outkast’s miscast Andre Benjamin. The characters seem to think they’re more interesting than they actually are.
Some say it’s a misunderstood film that requires repeat viewings, but it mostly reeks of pretentiousness. Building a cult following over the years, it’s one of those films you either get or get bored to death with. Still, the courage to try something different and challenging is admirable.
6. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
Ritchie’s latest film in another studio attempt at launching a new franchise didn’t go so well. On screen and at the box office, “King Arthur” sees the director’s energetic style get the best of him at times but is still an entertaining yarn.
A new incarnation of the classic legend, Charlie Hunnam plays the titular hero who’s unaware of his legacy until fate leads him to Excalibur, which he draws from the stone. He soon sets out to defeat Jude Law’s King Vortigern, who murdered his parents and robbed him of his birthright.
Ritchie’s fast-paced action style may have worked well with “Sherlock Holmes” but with “King Arthur” it becomes a little too much. The film barely takes a second to breathe or to indulge in its characters, which mostly end up being stereotypes or caricatures. Some of the action scenes fly by so fast you can barely keep up or know what’s going on.
The script (as it mostly is with these types of studio films) is the greatest flaw; it comes across as convoluted and uneven at times. Then there’s the acting which is mostly serviceable, aside from Law who steals every scene he’s in. Hunnam is also great as King Arthur.
The cinematography, set design, costumes and special effects are all ace, but it just doesn’t have that magic to elevate it to something greater. The movie’s true MVP, however, is Daniel Pemberton, whose infectious, fist-pumping score is one the best heard this year.
With more fantasy than any of Ritchie’s or King Arthur’s previous adventures in film, “Legend of the Sword” isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. It’s still a fun two hours aside from its many flaws and shortcomings.