Courtesy of STX Entertainment
For the past decade, filmmaker Guy Ritchie has been making films to appease the studio system. Long gone were the days of the bare knuckle fist fights of “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock, and Barrell,” the UK born director made the fun “Sherlock Holmes” movies, he gave Armie Hammer and Henry Cavil meaty roles in the descent “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” and then took major steps back, creatively, with the forgettable “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.” But the biggest conundrum of his career arrived when he was announced as the helmer of Disney’s live action “Aladdin” remake. Granted, “Aladdin” was a monstrous hit and gave Ritchie the biggest film of his career, you could sense the filmmaker was desperate to return to his signature style. And I think that ultimately paved the way for him to return to top form in his latest “The Gentlemen” a motion picture that requires a certain appetite for how Ritchie operates.
“The Gentlemen” is cut from the same cloth as “Snatch”- with its clever homages of old-school East End wankers, 1990s swagger, snarky dialogue, and intertwining narratives so convoluted and all over the place, you almost need a flow chart to keep track of the madness. But that’s Ritchie’s world, and he’s missed it, made obvious by utilizing every opportunity he can to have actors sling F bombs and inject “C***t” into just about every sentence.
Like some of his earlier films, “The Gentleman” has a boatload of exposition that’s a hurdle to overcome but rewards the viewer in the end. For a majority of the film, Ritchie sets up the action through Hugh Grant’s Fletcher, a slimy private investigator who works for a tabloid newspaper edited by a frothing Big Dave (Eddie Marsan - a Ritchie staple). Dave is on the prowl to destroy the legacy of Mickey Pearce (Matthew McConaughey going full Matthew McConaughey) - a smartly tailored kingpin who runs probably the biggest marijuana empire in London. Rather than selling Big Dave the full story of Mickey’s criminal enterprise, Fletcher sneaks into the luxurious home of Mick’s right hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) and offers to hand over every piece of evidence against his boss for a cool $20 million. From there, Ritchie allows Grant to unspool his narrative in a series of flashbacks and crafty narration.
As mentioned, Mickey is an American marijuana overlord who's managed to keep his operations away from the public eye by renting a batch of country estates throughout Britain and then building underground facilities beneath them. But now he’s ready to retire and join Britain’s elitist in big mansions alongside his “cockney Cleopatra” wife (Michelle Dockery). He offers the business to a wealthy American aristocrat (Jeremy Strong, “Succession”) for $400 million, but problems arise when Dry Eye (Henry Golding) or “the Chinese James Bond” - an ambitious businessman is determined that Mickey should hand the keys over to him. This sets off a chain of brawls, foot chases, and a slew of double crossings involving an Irish boxing trainer (Colin Farrell - the MVP of the film) and his gang called The Toddlers, and much more.
If you can get past the constant “Pulp Fiction” knockoffs, it’s easy to see past the films need to backtrack on itself continuously. Part of that stems from the awkward framing device used to rely the story as it becomes hard to figure out if this is all real or just happening in Fletcher’s head. Eventually, the last 30 minutes brings the entire scope of “The Gentlemen” into focus and let’s just say the way gangsters get their revenge had my in near shambles from laughing so hard. It takes awhile to get to the payoff, but it's in those final moments that allow you to appreciate what Ritchie has accomplished .
Helping make the film go down like a smooth class of aged whisky, is the cast of who’s who starting with McConaughey looking like he just rolled into the movie from one of his Lincoln commercials. I’ve enjoyed watching the actor this decade in a batch of respectable films (if you haven’t seen “The Lincoln Lawyer,” I suggest you seek it out) and you can tell him - along with Grant and Hunam - enjoy spewing meaty Ritchie dialogue. Plus they all look lavish thanks to Micheal Wilkinson’s costume design and give props to “Downton Abbey” star Michelle Dockery who manages to stand her own in an ensemble dominated by men.
If “The Gentlemen” does feel like a stitched together suit of the directors better films, I suppose you can’t blame him for wanting to take the plunge. You can tell he got more out of making this film than “King Arthur” or “Aladdin” and the results, though not revolutionary, should keep Ritchie fans settled for the time being.