Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding
Guy Ritchie hit the ground running at the beginning of his career, with the likes of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels rating high amongst critics and audiences. His projects since have been quite up and down, opting for some out-of-the-ordinary genres amongst his more familiar action/mob/very British settings. The Gentlemen sums up the latter of Ritchie’s choices in its title alone, making it enough to get excited about. Has Ritchie successfully come back from a whole new world, or has his magic carpet lost its way somewhere between The Man from U.N.C.L.E and Aladdin?
Michael ‘Mickey’ Pearson (McConaughey) is an American-born businessman making his fortune in London by cultivating, growing and selling marijuana, something he’s been doing since his short-lived university days. Despite how lucrative the business is, Mickey is looking to sell up and retire, because as marijuana looks more and more likely to become legal in the UK in the near future, Mickey’s background could become detrimental to the legal success of the business. But of course, it’s not all plain sailing, as attempts are made by rivals and idiots to expose Mickey’s dealings for reasons that soon come to light after much digging around by his loyal right-hand man, Ray (Hunnam), and others who owe Mickey their loyalty.
The majority of the story is told through a narrative presented by Grant’s character Fletcher, a journalist-cum-screenwriter who’s hoping to use Mickey’s story (that he thinks he has all figured out) to make it big in Hollywood. It makes for an entertaining angle on what would otherwise be just another bog-standard crime caper (and it gives Grant the chance to actually shine in a role where he’s not just playing himself for once). The mixing of American and British actors and accents is also somewhat refreshing, and it’s rather fun to hear McConaughey use some British slang and almost delve into a slightly ‘posher’ accent (in the opening scene he enters a pub and orders ‘a pint and a pickled egg’, which is quite brilliant). The wit throughout is sharp and familiar of a Ritchie film, so at least we know what to expect (in a good way).
As is also standard of a Ritchie movie, while the action is quite dramatic and visually pleasing, the dialogue is heavy and over-saturated at times with explanations and witty repartee between rival characters. It’s also let down by the bouts of unnecessary racism. It may have worked for the ignorant characters and have slipped by unnoticed if this film were released twenty years ago, perhaps even just ten years ago, but now many of the jokes at the expense of another race just fall absolutely flat. It’s not the worst, but it’s also really unnecessary to use it to give us the idea that most of these guys are idiots who don’t know what they’re doing. At one point, Ritchie exposes his own writing by making it almost ‘woke’ (to reluctantly use a really odd millennial-invented phrase), as if the racism doesn’t count because the guy it’s aimed at has it explained to him as not being racist but factual. That’s one way to try and get away with it. It’s possible that some are just too sensitive about this kind of thing, but the fact is that, as mentioned, it’s unnecessary, so there’s no need to create the problem in the first place.
McConaughey makes the most of his role as Mickey. It’s not much like anything he’s done before (the closest is probably his character in The Wolf of Wall Street, but even then there are huge differences), and his commitment to his craft comes across just as strong as it does in any other role he’s had. Mickey is a strong lead character and he’s not your average criminal underworld boss, meaning he’s not entirely predictable and he has some morals, unusually. Hunnam as Ray is also rather enjoyable, a character who plays his cards close to his chest and always second-guessing his enemies. The real standout of the leads however is Grant as Fletcher. He puts on an east-end drawl that’s quite unlike him and shows how far his comedic abilities can actually go. Overall his scenes are the ones to look forward to throughout. Dockery is a world away from her posh upper-class Downton Abbey role as she now also takes to the London underworld with a Cockney accent of her own, her performance as Mickey’s wife Rosalind a great compliment to McConaughey’s performance. She’s not the typical damsel-in-distress or wife of a drug baron who does nothing but visit beauty parlours. No, this crime wife has her own business and her own mind, making her quite the likable and decent female character (though there is one scene that felt like it had stepped back a bit in the fight for proper female representation onscreen, but for the most part, she’s to cheer for). Farrell throws himself into the role of ‘Coach’, named so as he coaches young lads in boxing who would otherwise be set for a life of crime, a decent and dependable character who, like Fletcher, is refreshing when onscreen. Then we have Golding, still a relative newcomer in film, who is quickly making his way up the ranks but still has a little way to go in sharpening his skills, particularly when it comes to emoting properly (it’s all in the eyes, my friend). He does a good job of playing an arrogant up-and-comer in the London-based Chinese mob, but he still hasn’t quite found his niche.
When you think of a ‘Guy Ritchie’ movie, The Gentlemen ought to be exactly the kind of thing that comes to mind. Thus, when it comes to writing and directing, he’s best off sticking to what he knows, which isn’t Disney musicals or biopics on mythical historical figures. The whole thing is also well-paced and just right length-wise (if it were but ten minutes longer it would have felt too long). He could however do with losing the aged racism tropes and maybe try something different whilst staying within the genres he knows best, such as stepping out of the inner workings of a gangland situation and coming at it from the outside, perhaps. It’s good that he’s returned to his roots, but Ritchie’s got some growing to do, as things ain’t quite the same as they were when Snatch and Lock, Stock were released.