It isn’t very often I find myself in the theater, two weeks in a row, watching films by two different directors with extremely unique, trademarked styles. If last week’s 8 was a trip down Michael Bay Popcorn Bucket Explosion Avenue, then this week’s The Gentlemen is a ride in a Hackney Carriage with a cabbie who’s had two drinks already this shift.
I love everything about Guy Ritchie movies, from the stylistic transitions and parabolic dialogue to the quick-witted humor and twisting and turning plots. In The Gentleman, the writer/director of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, and Man from U.N.C.L.E. is back and in great form.
Mickey Pearson (Matt McConaughey, Interstellar, Gold) is the marijuana kingpin of the UK. He’s calm, collected, and suave. McConaughey is a magnetic personality, but seeing him in this role is refreshing. He still retains his charm, but hidden beneath the “good ol’ boy” diction is an apex predator. Mickey is the king of the game, and he knows it: his operation spans the British Isles. But Mickey has a missus, Rosalind, played by the craftily witty Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), and he wants to sell his business, retire in the countryside, and raise a family.
This desire shuffles in a whole slew of troubles. Mickey looks to sell to an eccentric Oklahoma billionaire (Jeremy Strong, Succession), but shortly after their negotiations get serious, things start going awry. The high-tension power struggle that ensues is wrought with twists, turns, gangsters, guns, and scotch.
Guy Ritchie has a way with movies about the seedy underbelly of his homeland and The Gentleman is right in his sweet spot. He takes an interesting approach in this film, laying the whole film out as an anecdote given by the seedy private detective Fletcher. Hugh Grant (Notting Hill, About a Boy) plays Fletcher brilliantly. The extortionist P.I. is grimy and cunning. He meets Mickey’s right hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy), more corners him in his home, in the first moments of the film and demands 20 million pounds for the information he has gathered on the sale of Mickey’s empire. If his demands aren’t met, he threatens to give the information over to a prominent London newspaper, exposing Mickey and his operation to the public, and worse, to law enforcement.
It is in the setting of Ray’s home, interior and exterior, that Fletcher lays out the details of his investigation. Ritchie cuts from action to dialogue creatively, juxtaposing the tense moments of the film’s subject matter with a more light-hearted conversation between frenemies. Truly, Hugh Grant and Charlie Hunnam’s dynamic feels lived in. Traveled. The two clearly have history, and that history comes through in off-handed jokes and direct insults.
The Gentlemen’s in-depth plot is complemented by an extremely talented cast. McConaughey is a force of nature in almost every role he touches. But complemented by Grant, Hunnam, Dockery, Strong, Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians), and Colin Farrell (In Bruges, The Lobster), there isn’t a single moment an A-list actor isn’t on the screen, crushing their performance. It speaks to Guy Ritchie’s directorial ability that he can put this many talented bodies this close together and get nuanced performances from each.
Ritchie’s writing talent is on display here as well. Several times throughout the film, I caught myself gawking at a long form conversation that sported extremely smart, interesting dialogue. There is an argument to be made that English accents have the ability to make conversation come across as more intelligent by default, but I never felt that here. Each character is smart, concise, sharp. I am a sucker for good dialogue, clearly. Honestly, the closer you can get to Sorkin’s hyper-intellectualism, the more of my heart you will win by default. But Ritchie’s writing is genuinely good in The Gentlemen, and it elevates the movie above your typical crime-lord drama.
This isn’t Guy Ritchie’s best, I would still place Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels above it. But when it comes to Guy Ritchie crime films The Gentlemen is an obvious continuation of the Guy Ritchie brand of film. | Caleb Sawyer