The Gentlemen | Guy Ritchie | January 24, 2020

Similar to Martin Scorsese’s return to his classic wheelhouse last year, Guy Ritchie has returned with his signature style to tell yet another British gangster film. Ritchie has certainly made a name for himself as a fast-paced and often erratic storyteller. His previous gangster films of the last two decades- Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, are regarded as some of the most memorable films to ever come out of the U.K. Ritchie directs with a frenetic, fast-paced and often jarring sense of style. He’s no stranger to this type of gangster film. Which is why The Gentlemen mostly works, although similarly feels like a film that’s 15 years too late.

Matthew McConaughey plays to his strengths here as a mostly calm and collected marijuana dealer who has taken over the drug scene in Great Britain. His performance as Mickey Pearson is nothing of major note, but playing a marijuana kingpin is almost too perfect for him to pass up. His right-hand man Ray (Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam) keeps Mickey in line and cleans up his messes. One night after “work,” Ray comes home to find a sleazy newspaper writer named Fletcher (an almost unrecognizable Hugh Grant) in his home. Fletcher knows all about Ray and Mickey’s marijuana empire and is prepared to blackmail both of them for 20 million dollars.

The moment Hugh Grant starts talking, you know that you’re in for at least an entertaining film, if anything. Grant hams up his role as Fletcher by portraying a slimy and ruthless reporter with no shame- and he’s easily the best thing about this movie. He begins to tell Ray what he’s pieced together about Mickey Pearson’s business dealings. The Gentlemen then begins its story with Fletcher narrating what he’s pieced together from his own photographs and covert efforts. We’re drawn into a story that we’ve seen a million times before. Mickey Pearson wants to retire from the drug business, which will leave a vacuum of power.

Enter Henry Golding as Chinese mobster “Dry Eye”. He wants to offer Mickey a grand payout for overtaking his business. There are other potential buyers as well. It’s nice to see Jeremy Strong after his spectacular second season of Succession on HBO, but he is partially wasted here. His character Matthew is an American businessman who wants to oversee the marijuana distribution as well. With three characters all trying to hold on to the power of the booming weed industry, you can guess that blood will soon be shed.

Guy Ritchie films are always known for their bravado, and almost an overconfident presentation that everything happening on screen is “the coolest thing.” While there are plenty of stylistic moments that won me over, the plot is almost surprisingly simple. Much of the run time is devoted to Fletcher and Ray going back and forth about what actually happened in the past few weeks prior to their current meeting. There’s also a subplot about a wealthy Lord’s daughter who needs to be rescued from a heroin stricken apartment building. While The Gentlemen lacks in an engaging plot- the characters, and dialogue-heavy scenes really save the film from its trope-filled sandbox.

These moments, strangely enough, are the best parts of the film. When The Gentlemen strays away from the typical gangster film moments, it actually has some pretty interesting things going on. Colin Farrell shows up as a boxing coach who is just trying to keep his students from becoming part of Mickey’s gang. The smaller threads at play in this film almost seem directly at odds with the cliche gangster narrative. Thankfully, the “taking out a competitor” scenes are far and few between. The power struggle between Mickey, his two potential buyers of his business, and the newspaper trying to take him down, never feel fully connected.

That being said, Charlie Hunnam is having a total blast here as the henchmen to McConaughey. In fact, almost everyone puts in a better performance than the Hollywood leading man. Hunnam has been a consistently good actor, and it’s great to see him in such a fun leading role. He absolutely fits the part of loyal, ruthless, but ultimately reasonable henchman. Michelle Dockery is great as McConaughey’s wife Rosalind, but she’s barely in the film. She has a few really good scenes where she holds her own against some baddies, but it’s disappointing that she’s the only woman on the poster, and has the least amount of screen time of all.

If The Gentlemen was released in the early 2000s, it would mostly fit right in with Snatch. It’s not as gritty, since the gangsters here are mostly upper class, which takes away from the gutter and grime aesthetic of Snatch. Given the title of the film, it’s not surprising. However, it would feel fresh if we didn’t have two Kingsman movies in the past few years. Those films, although gritty as well, tried to establish upper glass gentlemen in a James Bond type role.

That doesn’t mean that The Gentlemen is devoid of anything interesting. There are quite a few set pieces that are laugh out loud funny. Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam play off each other very well. When The Gentlemen lets loose with its structure is where it’s strongest. It can be a bit of a mess, but you can tell everyone was having a great time making it. It’s vulgar, violent, erratic, and mostly all over the place- but I had fun watching it. It’s better than any January release has any right to be.

Rating: 6.8/10

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