“He’s fucking pissed off”
23 minutes into this film about whether Test cricket is dying, the sport’s Yoda of writers Gideon Haigh resets the compass.
Instead of a sad story about a slowly suffering sport, Death of a Gentleman took a left turn at Albuquerque and into the badlands of corruption, greed and self interest.
At this point, it is no longer a niche cricketing drama movie. It is a fully fledged hard hitting investigative piece.
Producer Sam Collins alludes to this in the mesmerising opening scene, highlighting that the initial purpose of his movie was completely shattered as he asked more questions through the process.
It is abundantly clear as to the amount of hard work Collins and co-producer Jarrod Kimber have put into this, let alone the risks to personal relationships and even their careers that they have exposed themselves to.
A documentary about corporate governance, hidden in a cricketing wrapper, and filmed in Australia, India, Sri Lanka, the UK and the UAE.
It could so easily have been a film about a Wall St bank and starred Gordon Gekko.
It kinda was.
These guys rely on the ICC and its members for their journalistic living, yet here they are, literally biting the hand that feeds them.
As a production, it is hard to fault.
Visually, the movie uses clever tricks to make it feel like an episode of CSI: Dubai.
Black and white cinemagraphic filters, a blackboard used to join the dots between the evil characters and a haunting soundtrack lingering below Sam’s slightly proper English accent.
Stir in frank snippets of interviews with cricketing royalty, smart camera angles and a script that has been given 4 years to develop.
The end product is an Andrew Jennings style formal enquiry wrapped up nicely into a motion picture.
Although Death of a Gentleman draws you into sub plot after sub plot about naughty men doing naughty things, it’s the way Ed Cowan’s story of a lad making his way as a player weaving in and out reminds us of why the movie exists in the first place.
Another reminder comes from T20 mercenary Chris Gayle. He informs us that he is proud of what he achieved in the Test arena, but wished his board had scheduled more of it.
Death of a Gentleman revives memories of young boys dreaming to play for their country, dressed in whites, against the best players on the best grounds. It makes one think of cricketing romance, freshly cut grass, manually operated scoreboards, Henry Blofeld’s voice over the wireless and hot summer days.
The worry from respected cricket family members like Tony Greig, Ian Chappell, Michael Holding and Mark Nicholas contrasts heavily with the arrogance of BCCI employees Ravi Shastri, Srinivasan and his mate at the ECB Giles Clarke.
It’s as if the film makers are being scolded for publicly questioning the status quo and power base. The film plays on being contrarian, and for a staid sport like cricket, this is important.
“Clarke’s background was running pet shops and a wine business, and here he was telling us that a former Lord Chief Justice knew nothing about governance”
Sam Collins re Giles Clarke
Death of Gentleman alludes to cricket needing its own Bastille Day. A revolution. May the proletariat rise up and take back what is rightly fully theirs.
“I’m not concerned about the strength of the BCCI. What concerns me more is about the weakness of other boards.”
Haroon Lorgat – Former ICC Chairman
However, if there is one slight on the narrative, it struggles to clearly articulate what the problem is as it shifts from romantic novel to a corporate governance witch hunt. Some of the circling back work is underplayed or missed altogether.
Perhaps this is due to the change of course once filming had begun?
Death of a Gentleman hints that the problem it is trying to describe may be because of a narrow power base and a lack of governance. But viewers with little cricketing administrative knowledge will find it hard to understand what the impact of that is.
Although clues exist and breadcrumbs are given, one is forced to guess and fill in the gaps for themselves.
For example, we learn that the ICC only gives China $30,000 per year to grow the game.
We are also told about press passes being withheld and accusations of racial abuse against film maker Kimber, apparently in retribution just for making the film in the first place.
We are told the IPL has changed a not for profit sport into a capitalist free for all.
English player Kevin Pietersen says that given the short amount of time you spend in the game, that one must maximise their earnings potential.
Is the problem that money has now overtaken the intrinsic need to put your country first?
Is that the message that Collins and Kimber are trying to instill in us?
The film doesn’t explicitly tell us why the game making more money is bad.
It just tells us it is different from how the game functioned in the past.
Perhaps the film makers are too romantically caught up in the good old days, for they haven’t deeply explored how the new world of T20 and the old world of Test might co-exist and prosper together.
This balance would have been a complementary addition.
For example, we are shown what the new IC3 revenue sharing structure means, but we are not shown how it was before. Some context is lacking.
We do get the message that money in the sport is badly managed, but we don’t ever receive education on what the impacts are other than players now have a choice between two formats of the game.
That clearly has its negatives, but what of the positives?
Over and over, the film’s interviewees remind us that it is the people who will decide what product they want.
Even the villains in Srinivasan and Giles Clarke spout this message.
One senses that the writers believe that there should only be one winner and that it should be Test cricket. Again, coexistence is not forensically explored.
“Our nagging question was is T20 really cricket or even a sport?”
Maybe this is the loss of power that Collins and Kimber feel? Instead of the administrators taking away their beloved Test cricket format, maybe a whole demographic of people have just moved on?
However, one message is clear.
The administrators are simply custodians of the game and not the owners of the game.
Fortunately, the film does a wonderful job of convincing us that the administrators have forgotten this crucial fact.
Despite some shortcomings, Death of a Gentleman is a brilliant attempt to combine emotion, tradition, modern corporate reality, heroes, villains and a guess of what the future holds.
Its main characters are willing, they are rarely superfluous and the story holds together well despite the multiple rabbit holes it explores.
Cricket nerds will love it. Sport fans will enjoy its pace. Those without a clue about cricket will be drawn in to a wonderful documentary.
The film is currently only available for viewings in the UK. However, plans are afoot for a wider release.
When it appears in your part of the world, make sure you invest the $20 in a ticket and a bag of popcorn. Otherwise, grab it on DVD.