Let’s get one thing straight. Director Guy Ritchie is a man dedicated to style. Like Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino, Guy also has his own cinematic calling cards and artist signatures. His style namely consists of unreliable and quirky narrations, scene playbacks, zinger-filled banter and morally dubious characters. For goodness sake, he couldn’t even keep his Ritchiesms out of a fantasy film like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. A fantasy film that has no business trying to play fast and loose in the vein of films like Pulp Fiction or The Nice Guys.
Ritchie has a distinct style but the question at the end of the day is whether it pays off or not. Over the years, it’s proven to be hit-and-miss depending on the compatibility between Ritchie’s unique brand of storytelling and visuals with a film’s premise. In light of all this, I am happy to report that his latest outing with The Gentlemen has proven that there is a place for Ritchie’s voice in the industry.
As promised in the trailer of the film, The Gentlemen follows Matthew McConaughey’s, Mickey Pearson, the drug kingpin of a marijuana racket and criminal empire priced at close to half a billion pounds, going head-to-head with Henry Golding’s Dry Eye, a ruthless crime boss. After Mickey passes over Dry Eye’s offer be his successor, opting to take a buyout from Jeremy Strong’s Matthew, tensions escalate between the two that eventually lead to a full-on drug war.
Amidst all this chaos, Mickey and his second-in-command Raymond, played by Charlie Hunnam, must contend with a newspaper editor out for blood, the Russian mob and one smug, sly, sexually provocative private investigator played by Hugh Grant. The board is set, let the games begin!
Despite the many twists and turns purported by the film’s sensational trailer, the truth of the matter is that any fan of the Coen Brothers, Tarantino and even Shane Black can see the film’s twists coming a mile away. The plot does its level best to keep up with the pretence of it being this massive, sprawling criminal conspiracy. Somewhere in the middle of the film’s second act though, you’ll probably see where the wind is blowing.
Then again, it isn’t about the destination but rather the journey and I have got to say that The Gentlemen does set a brisk, exciting pace. Hugh Grant as the unreliable narrator of Mickey’s drug war does a fine job as a plot device moving the action forward, keeping us on our toes and delivering some laughs along the way. So even when the plot begins to feel cliche, it moves at such lightning speed (most of the time) to the point in which you barely have time to pick apart the tropes. I mean the whole premise is pretty cheesy but it’s all executed with enough flair and style to make it all quite forgivable.
It certainly helps that Guy Ritchie is firing on all cylinders in the writing department for The Gentlemen. The script is sharp, witty, and for the most part, lands thanks to its charismatic cast of seasoned actors who know a thing or two about black humour. Make no mistake, Ritchie’s double entendres, wordplay and comebacks aren’t quite as good as the Coens, Tarantino or Martin McDonough. Nonetheless, it manages to deliver plenty of punchy lines, menacing threats and chuckle-worthy moments throughout.
I do have two small gripes with the writing though. The first being that there are moments in the film in which character monologues and humorous bits overstay their welcome. It comes off as a tad overindulgent. The second would be the film slowing down the action at times to accommodate for an odd PSA against cocaine and heroin while being ardently pro-marijuana. There’s even a whole sentimental subplot about it that doesn’t really go anywhere. Thankfully, these moments are sparse and far between the rest of the film
Of course, this all could have gone terribly wrong if not for the film’s phenomenal cast. Some might say that Matthew McConaughey is simply playing a more intense version of himself but honestly, the man has swagger and charm coming out of his pores. Whenever he’s on-screen, you’ll wait with bated breath for Mickey’s next big move and plan to be laid out.
Less impressive however is Henry Golding as the supposed “antagonist” of the film. He feels both underutilized and severely out of his depth. He seems to only ever have two modes: brooding and intense. I was looking forward to seeing how Golding measures up against McConaughey and I’ve got to say that I’m disappointed.
Part of the reason why Golding isn’t quite catching the limelight is due to the fact that The Gentlemen has a whole host of other characters who are far more interesting. Charlie Hunnam’s Raymond and Hugh Grant’s Fletcher make for a wonderful duo with Ray playing the hospitable, level-headed straight man to Fletcher’s filthy, sly wild card. You never know whether Raymond’s going to punch Fletcher or make him a nice steak dinner. Grant channels his inner homoerotic flamboyance to great comedic effect.
Collin Farrell as Coach, a streetsmart fighter who gets caught up in Mickey’s business when his boys mess up in a big way, is also a ton of fun. Seeing him swivel between loving mentor and intimidating henchman makes for one of the more nuanced performances here. Not to mention he has great comedic timing. A particular scene involving a man named “Phuc” comes to mind.
While it’s hard to truly give The Gentlemen a standing ovation, it is no challenge to find the whole affair a perfectly enjoyable, albeit predictable, affair. Those more accustomed to the black comedy scene may find Ritchie’s latest foray to be underwhelming. Those simply coming in expecting to have an entertaining roller-coaster ride through every cliche found in the mobster film playbook will leave thoroughly satisfied. The Gentlemen is a great stepping stone for Ritchie’s career as a writer and director. Now, if we could finally get that damn sequel to 2011’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows!