What do No Country for Old Men, True Grit and The Big Lebowski all have in common? One word: Coen. Previously referred to as ‘The Two-Headed Director’ the Coen brothers have become synonymous with movie success. Their trophy cabinet includes 3 Oscars for ‘No Country for Old Men’, a BAFTA, a Director’s Guild Award and 2 Writer’s Guild Awards. Suffice to say if you see these two on the billing, the producers mean business. The expectations were high. Unfortunately expectations were dashed rather quickly. Let me explain:
Gambit is a remake of a film of the same name from 1966 starring Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine. The plot has been altered slightly, as has the cast with rumours Jennifer Aniston was due to play PJ Puznowski rather than Cameron Diaz, (lucky escape for her). The film begins with a voiceover from the slightly eccentric Major Wingate played by twice Oscar-nominated Brit actor Tom Courtenay. It transpires that Wingate and art curator Harry Deane are planning to con detestable businessman Lionel Shahbandar into the purchase of a fake Monet however, they need the help of Texan cowgirl PJ Puznowski as ‘the convincer’.
It is from this point really that the film becomes anything but convincing. There’s a sense of old fashioned caper about it which is endearing at first but soon wears thin. The English nature of the film led by Firth and Rickman leads to one round of ‘oh blimeys’ and buffoonery too many and our brilliant writers resort at one point to flatulence to get a laugh. This is unfortunate as there is scope for a very entertaining comedy particularly from the performance of Alan Rickman who plays the odious Lionel Shahbandar, the sort of boss many are sure to be able to identify with. Then we’ve got Diaz who seems to be on rather a bad run of late with What To Expect When You’re Expecting and Bad Teacher. She definitely makes the most of a limited situation but rather than provide amusement, her tacky American PJ clashes with Firth’s blundering Harry rather like Shrek the Third against The King’s Speech, the effect of which is quite uncomfortable.
The sad aspect to this film is that it’s hard to watch the cast diluting their capabilities down to the levels of nudity and karaoke. Diaz is 4 times Golden Globe nominated for the likes of Vanilla Sky and Being John Malkovich. Just last year Firth swept the Oscars for his legendary performance in The King’s Speech and Rickman has a habit of cropping up in huge, brilliant movies like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Alice in Wonderland not to mention etched his place in movie-eternity as the despicable Severus Snape.
As for the Coens it just goes to show that for all their quirk and individuality, heist comedy is not a shoo-in, even for these guys. The brother’s other project Inside Llewyn Davis is currently in post-production. This is a star-studded affair including the likes of Carey Mulligan (An Education), John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedlund (Tron). This might be a reason for the slightly rushed, between-productions-filler feel to Gambit. Either way, despite the potential of this film it’s not the Coen’s best. Better luck next time boys.