Guns are ablaze. Gangsters banter and fight. Guy Ritchie is back.
Ritchie channels the spirits of his signature gangster movies in The Gentlemen, which has a simple premise: American-born and Britain-based Mickey Pearson (the ever-reliable Matthew McConaughey) wants to sell his rich but illegal marijuana empire and retire for the quiet life with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery, far from her Downton Abbey days). Naturally, word gets out about the deal and everybody suddenly wants in on it. Things go from bad to worse as more people get involved and the body count begins to pile up.
That’s all expected from The Gentlemen, which marks Ritchie’s return to his “cockney crime caper” films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) that solidified him as a go-to action thriller director. He branched out of his usual style with the massively successful Sherlock Holmes films (of which a third one is in development), last year’s billion-dollar live-action remake of Aladdin, the underrated spy caper The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), and the messy box office dud King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017).
Of course, Ritchie’s directorial flairs seep into these movies, as well; but The Gentlemen acts as a back-to-basics Ritchie, and fans of his films will enjoy this one. There’s never a dull moment in this movie – from the high-speed chase scene between Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) and kids who’ve seen too much of their dirty work to a fast-paced brawl in a drug lab, the premise of which is too funny to spoil. Just wait until you get to the edge-of-your-seat climax where all of the threads of the story come together.
Ritchie’s script is, as expected, all over the place in both good and bad ways. On one hand, it’s tough to keep track of who starts who, and he throws too many plot twists and curveballs, which could be quite confusing for the casual viewer. The film’s final act is also a mixed bag, where some storylines pay off and some end in out-of-character ways. However, he still keeps it entertaining with how he frames The Gentlemen as a script pitch by private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant), and the aforementioned curveballs are introduced in cool, fun ways such as freeze frames, hilarious text on screens, and flashbacks that paint the bigger picture.
It helps that the film’s large ensemble cast helps carry the movie’s quirks and charms. Matthew McConaughey is effortlessly charming as Mickey, especially as the character becomes more desperate as the stakes escalate. Michelle Dockery doesn’t do much as Rosalind, but she makes all her scenes count as someone with equal footing and brains as Mickey.
Far from the rom-com flicks that gained him fame, Henry Golding is menacing as rogue enforcer Dry Eye, and he showcases both the allure and the vile unpredictability of the character. Colin Farrell is both badass and hilarious as the pacifist Coach, who is capable of more than he lets on. As Raymond, Charlie Hunnam is much better here than he was in King Arthur, showing his duality as both a classy and concerned friend to Mickey while being a menacing henchman at the same time. He somewhat serves as the audience’s foil as he is on the receiving end of Fletcher’s “storytelling.”
Hugh Grant’s Fletcher is the clear standout of the film as Grant gets to play against type as a trashy, snarky private investigator who’s willing to sell his information for the right price. Most of The Gentlemen rely on Fletcher’s hilarious narration. While this results in an expository-heavy movie, it’s never a boring time with Fletcher, whose somewhat omnipresence is a running joke in the film. Grant’s game delivery of Ritchie’s quick-witted and colorful dialogue brings Fletcher to life, even if he’s held against his will.
As expected, Ritchie’s dialogue brings life and much-needed comedy and energy to the film’s dark premise and high-octane thrills, and his characters continually churn out crassness, the c-word, and casual racism. Whether or not you see said racism as a problem depends on how you see the movie. On one hand, these characters are bad people saying bad things. At the same time, a lot of punchlines and descriptions rely on stereotypes: Dry Eye is always referred to as a “Chinaman,” there’s a lengthy scene involving the name “Phuc,” and certain power dynamics between characters are questionable. Some are funny on their own, while others didn’t sit well with me.
The Gentlemen is an intense, enjoyable gangster flick where actors are at their A-game, the action is relentless, and there’s a lot of fun in experiencing it. It’s a return to the style Ritchie is well-known for, and whether or not you like this movie depends on how you enjoy his filmmaking. For some, it’s dated and hasn’t aged well. For others, back-to-basics Ritchie is more than enough for a ticket’s price.
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