Setting aside the pleasantries of the Disney world for a street more familiar, Guy Ritchie returns to his lock stocked roots. The Gentlemen is Ritchie’s loud and proud venture back into cockney crime capers. Alongside Ritchie, he brings with him an interesting casting sheet sure to make raise an eyebrow or two. Front and centre is Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Pearson, debonaire leader of a multi-million cannabis empire spread across the United Kingdom.
Mickey has hopes of ditching the empire in favour of country walks and family ties in the sun. As expected with a career of this calibre, getting out isn’t an easy feat. That’s just his story, or so we are told anyway, as Hugh Grant’s colourful performance as sleazy journo Fletcher recaps the tale of heroes and zeroes through a playfully meta lense. On the receiving end of that tale is Mickey’s right-hand man, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam).
Opening with a Bond-esque title sequence and the welcome excitement of Ritchie’s slick visual expertise, The Gentlemen fittingly feels like an update on his crime niche that elated critics back with his debut work. Mentions of analogue film and the smell of celluloid fill the air with love for the format in more than just meta exchanges about the narrative’s reliability.
Ritchie’s grasp of the material might not be a reinvention of his well-oiled formula (unlike the underrated Man From U.N.C.L.E) but it’s enough to elevate his own script to those loft heights of Snatch two decades ago. It’s that signature symphonic touch as Ritchie manoeuvres his cast through various elaborate sleight of hand style set pieces and verbal duels that truly makes The Gentlemen immensely enjoyable. Each character drops extended monologues of dialogue only Ritchie could write and (mostly) get away with. Clearly enjoying chewing up these meaty monologues is Grant’s scene-stealing turn against type.
The Grant we know from the About A Boy or Music and Lyrics era might not have worked had Ritchie concocted this earlier, but here Grant’s dazzlingly flamboyant sleaze comes across so effortlessly that he dominates every bit of narration or continued irritation towards his peers. McConaughey fits right into Ritchie underworld, oozing that specific brand of aesthetic class Cavill deployed in U.N.C.L.E. Meeting his competitive candour is Jeremy Strong’s Matthew, a potential friend or rival amongst the bidding list for Mickey’s business. Each interchange between them pierces the air with a nitpicking urgency to demonstrate a pissing contest for the ages. Across the city, Colin Farrel’s boxing coach known only as well…Coach tries to nurture the youth of his neighbourhood albeit with unorthodox results.
Unfortunately with the arrival of Coach and last act additions, the spotlight on just how casually racist Ritchie’s script is turned up. The inclusion of detrimental remarks and cultural popshots might be intended as supposedly territorial slang but they aren’t presented with any discernible social commentary or purpose, instead coming across as poor taste. It’s jarringly unnecessary when these elements appear and I couldn’t help but feel removed from the experience. At this point it seemingly hasn’t been addressed by Ritchie himself and I would hope he presents his rational in the near future.
As the twists reveal themselves one by one, The Gentlemen stands as a confidently executed addition to Ritchie’s career. Reaching for the heights of Ritchie’s superb sophomore effort Snatch, it doesn’t hit those same beats with as much precision but the return to this underbelly is enough of a thrill. Whilst it is tainted by unfavourable script choices, the strong cast and specifically Grant’s performance make this a worthwhile trip to the cinema in January “dead season”.
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Henry Holding, Hugh Grant, Jason Wong