Two of my biggest blind spots are Guy Ritchie’s first films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Heading into his new his newest British gangster flick, The Gentlemen, I’m more versed in his bigger work. His Sherlock Holmes films are full of delightfully fun action. I even liked his King Arthur movie quite a bit. There’s never a shortage of style and cleverness to a Guy Ritchie movie. If the British gangster movies that I have not seen have half the energy and freneticism of The Gentlemen, I can see myself enjoying them.
With the type of self-aware humor found here, he finds himself maybe commenting on his own style. He certainly doesn’t apologize for his quippy, quick dialogue and liberal use of a certain C-word. That’s all part of it. Ritchie’s movie certainly finds the filmmaker going back to his roots following a mostly okay live action version of Disney’s Aladdin. Even working within the confines of a pre-existing beloved property, he was almost able to make it his own. That’s a testament to the creative spirit Ritchie has.
The Gentlemen is distinctly a movie by Ritchie, and it almost always works. Every actor is giving something to film. Matthew McConaughey plays an American marijuana kingpin named Mickey who has cornered the market with his expansive network. McConaughey has a quiet intensity and also appears to just be having fun with this. He’s never taking himself too seriously here.
Through unreliable narrator Fletcher, (Hugh Grant) we learn about Mickey’s empire. It’s a clever way of giving exposition as the films events are told through the eyes of a sleazy private investigator. This framing device works, but only after you dip a toe into the water. The Gentlemen is a movie that’s a little hard to get into. But once you’re submerged in it, and you begin to realize what is truly going on, it’s hard not to go along for the ride.
Fletcher explains the films story to Ray (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s meticulous and taciturn right hand man. Through a series of really fun and funny anecdotal story telling, The Gentlemen works quickly to tell its story, and incredibly efficiently. With Mickey trying to get out of the game, and an eccentric buyer (Succession’s Jeremy Strong) looking to get in, the stakes are pretty much set up from the get go. The movie wastes no time though stylish visual and editing choices. With characters to root for, it’s easy to fall under the spell of Ritchie’s manic storytelling. Mickey makes it clear no one dies from his product, something his heroin dealing rivals cannot claim. Mickey may be a criminal, but Ritchie’s strong viewpoint on the character is what makes this all so interesting.
Perhaps the best part of the movie is Hunnam and Grant. They have excellent chemistry and the back and forth leads to some of the films most fun moments. It’s a storytelling structure that could just as easily take one out of the film. Instead, Grant’s infectious energy and delivery keeps the story moving at a feverish pace. The rest of the cast also shines. Colin Farrell and Henry Golding are also very funny and charming. Golding plays a rival dealer and gangster, Fletcher dubs him as the “Chinese James Bond”.
His real name is Dry Eye, and Golding emits the confidence in the character of someone who needs to be put in his place. It’s a fun angle to explore and Golding brings an immense amount of charisma to the role. Michelle Dockery is also excellent in the movie as Mickey’s wife Rosalind but she never really has all that much to do. Ultimately, she never really shines like she should.
It’s one of the bigger problems of Ritchie movies. He makes the “bro” hang-out movie better than most, and here he’s playing even deeper into the characters he loves to write. The charming, ball busting alpha-males who can also beat the crap out of people. He even directed King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword with the same type of energy.
Though he doesn’t treat female characters with the malaise and lack of thought of someone like Michael Bay, he also doesn’t give interesting females enough to do. Dockery’s surface level traits are actually interesting, and besides a moment near the end of the film, she isn’t given much room to do anything other than be a support system for Mickey.
For as good as the middle parts of the film are, the movie has a hard time crossing the finish line. It’s ending, or endings, took me out of the movie a bit. Though the dialogue still crackles, and you’re never truly bored, the films final half hour is a bit all over the place. The movie seems to want to give it every ending possible. An argument could be made its messy due to the events of the films ending. It’s up to the viewer in that sense but its final moments and plot reveals at the end isn’t all that strong.
You can see most of the story beats coming from the various things characters do and say. In that regard, it isn’t all that clever. That said, the predictibility doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment I found in the movie.
They say The Gentlemen marks a return to form for the Englishman’s eleventh feature. I can’t comment on that. What’s evident is Ritchie loves to play with style. His movies don’t work without the very specific energy he brings to them, part of why Aladdin doesn’t truly feel like his own creation. Following his most commercial film to date, Ritchie brings an exciting energy to Hollywood, and the crime genre overall, something deeply felt within this movie.