The Gentlemen is a new dark comedy crime thriller written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and stars Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant. McConaughey stars as Mickey Pearson, a drug lord based primarily in and around England (London, more specifically) who specializes in the still-illegal business of growing and distributing marijuana; his business is booming, his connections far-reaching, and his operation is somehow entirely off the grid. One day, however, a shake-up comes along as one of his farms is discovered and raided by an unknown party, causing a stir among potential business partners and inciting reflexive caution among Pearson and many well-to-do clients. But when Fletcher (Grant), a tabloid journalist who’s stumbled onto the story, turns up to the home of Ray (a closely trusted associate of Pearson, played by Charlie Hunnam) with the receipts on the ins and outs of what’s really going on, as well as demands for a grand sum of money in order to keep those receipts from going public, the web of intrigue is further spun, and what follows is a sleek, stylish tale of those in power, those who would try to force their way into power, and those who simply stumble upon it.
Guy Ritchie is an intriguing director. He’s made a few really apparently very solid films (though, to be fair, I haven’t seen those, so how would I know), a few notably underrated ones (like the aforementioned Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and some that just straight-up don’t work, but none of them ever came across as if they weren’t directed specifically by him. His signature style is hard to exactly pin down, and nearly impossible to replicate (especially when it works), so to see him go from the Aladdin remake back to what is apparently his more classical Snatch and Lock, Stock genre of storytelling without having ever really experienced the latter for myself was somewhat of a whiplash-laden switch for me, and makes this film incredibly difficult to describe in terms of not giving anything away without comparing it to those with which I am unfamiliar, and thus of which I remain unfortunately unknowledgeable. What I can say about The Gentlemen with absolute certainty is that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Guy Ritchie film so gleefully throw the rules out the window in terms of what we expect from a crime film in the modern day, and furthermore, I don’t know that I’ve ever been so comfortable with how brazenly into itself it is or been so generally apathetic to how carelessly offensive it could sometimes be just because of how much fun it looked like everyone was having in spite of all that.
No, The Gentlemen doesn’t always work, to be sure – there is some needlessly racist dialogue that doesn’t quite feel like it fits from a writing perspective, even as the characters would probably talk like that, and the style of it does become a bit too convoluted for its own good on occasion – but when it’s working, it’s really working, and this in large part thanks to Guy Ritchie probably being the best in the business at exactly this kind of movie, for all that he lack in other departments. At one point (or so I’m told), Ritchie was the king of high-brow British dark comedy crime thrillers with stylistic editing and incredibly fun but very niche character archetypes and it is not hard at all to see why. This film has an energy that knows exactly how to hit you once the story is all settled and ready to start, and it’s very clear from the get-go that the kind of movie you’re going in for is exactly what you’ll get (unless you expect it to, like, win Oscars, or something), so much so that even with its more problematic elements, you’re still going to really enjoy it on the whole.
This also extends to the way the story is told. As Fletcher (played by a Hugh Grant who’s having the time of his life chewing up the scenery) relays the story of the film to Ray, he does so in the format of a screenplay he wrote himself about the whole proceeding, and hearing it out loud is almost as entertaining as simply watching it play out. In fact, if a few camera moves were switched around, and some story changes were made, I could have simply watched Hugh Grant do the entire movie just describing the plot instead of watching it. Luckily, Guy Ritchie knows exactly what he’s doing with this sort of story, and the way the “screenplay” is overlaid, changed around, toyed with, and brought back to reality again is one of the most fun elements of this film’s writing. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and often takes several different routes to get to the ultimate point of what’s being said, but all the performances pull it off so well, you hardly notice that it’s been close to five whole minutes and McConaughey is still talking about how his weed distribution network is laid out, even though the answer he gets to basically amounts to “it’s everywhere and nowhere;” his Lincoln commercial voice is in full force and I enjoyed every second of his time on screen.
And speaking of well-done performances, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Charlie Hunnam this good. He mostly turns out as the more mild-mannered hitman type of character you can always sort of feel a past of quiet rage seething under (like he’s barely on the cusp of losing it on any given person and gleefully enjoying that loss but you can tell he’s known how to keep a deliberate, even-tempered lid on it for a while now), so he doesn’t have a lot of room to move around, but when he does, it’s ridiculously entertaining, and him underplaying his character while everyone else chews up the screen provides some much needed context into how high-brow both this world and these characters can often get. Michelle Dockery and Henry Golding, too, get to play characters generally different from their typical fare, and the former in particular gets to show off a range those unfamiliar with the actress outside of Downton Abbey could find very surprising. (Golding, too, is very good, but with so many large-looming characters in the mix, his does somewhat get left behind in terms of memorability; also, Jeremy Strong plays an exaggerated version of himself, but no one ever said that was a bad thing).
The scene-stealer, though, by quite a mile, turns out to be Colin Farrell as “Coach,” a sort of MMA instructor that gets roped into everything because it turns out some people he knows got involved without his knowledge, and now he has to help clean up a mess he didn’t even make. Farrell is ridiculously fun in this film, and his more calm, matter-of-fact nature about all of this provides both some of the film’s best comedy and most stylish fun, reminding us that this story exists slightly outside the parameters of what could be considered “normal” for his kind of character but nonetheless has roped him in anyway. The number 4 has never been so cheekily displayed on film.
None of this is to say that The Gentlemen is particularly mind-blowing or exceptional, but sometimes when you’ve got it, you’ve just got it, and if this is Guy Ritchie’s groove, he’s certainly stepped back in (mostly) with a surprising amount of ease. All the performances are deliciously over the top apart from Charlie Hunnam’s well-underplayed “bodyguard/enforcer” type, the writing is sharp and clever, and even when not everything about it works, Guy Ritchie’s supposed “return to form” still really works. January doesn’t often give us movies this good, so definitely check this one out if you get the chance.
I’m giving “The Gentlemen” a 7.1/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.