Synopsis – A British drug lord tries to sell off his highly profitable marijuana empire.
My Take – There is no doubt that British director Guy Ritchie gained fame for his rather unconventional vision as a filmmaker.
Yet, despite gaining notoriety for being able to spin a yarn with a good mix of blood, profanity, and insane humor with films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), Revolver (2005) and RocknRolla (2008), director Ritchie has been stuck in a Hollywood rut for the past decade, ever since he shifted focus to big budgeted visual effects heavy films, such as Sherlock Holmes (2009), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) and last year’s underwhelming Disney live action, Aladdin (2019).
However, while Aladdin did end up raking in $1.051 billion at the box office, it came a sign of good news when heavy criticism induced director Ritchie to take a leaf out of filmmaker Martin Scorsese‘s book and get back to what he does best i.e. make gangster films.
And guess what? His return to the underground world of bribery, drugs, and blood baths, is as refreshing as it is entertaining, that surprisingly nails every bold punch he makes, reminding us once again why he became so popular in the first place. The script is an absolute delight from start to finish, with some of the best dialogue I have heard in a very long time and delivered to perfection by all the main cast.
While yes, the plot is hardly anything new or original, there is also no denying that director Ritchie has injected real verve into what looks on paper like an inconsequential B-film, but if you’re looking for an action-packed, entertaining action comedy, it sure is a great way to spend a couple of hours.
The story follows Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a suave Oxford-educated American ex-pat who after controlling the huge marijuana empire of London for the past 25 years, wants to retire and settle down in a quiet place with Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), his equally ruthless and unflappable wife, who runs a garage with an all-female staff. Estimating his sell out price to be about £400 million, Mickey begins courting fellow American expat Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) to buy his empire.
However, as news of his plan to sell up shop spreads around town, Mickey finds himself faced with a number of enemies who come out of the woodwork to take a shot at him. Starting with Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a sleazy private eye, who arrives unannounced at the home of Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s most trusted right-hand man, demanding they pay him £20 million, for all the dirt he has on Mickey for tabloid editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan).
Then there is Dry Eye (Henry Golding), the ambitious but brutal scion of the Chinese syndicate, who hopes to undermine Berger, take over Mickey’s operation. And finally, Coach (Colin Farrell), who runs a boxing gym for troubled youths and inadvertently finds himself in the middle of everything when his lads, break into one of Mickey’s underground weed-plantations, film the entire thing and post it on YouTube as some sort of fighting music-video. Making it quite clear that some people have haven’t been exactly honest about their meetings and loyalty towards each other.
For the most part, this is a film that slides on a greased rail, much like many of director Ritchie’s other films. Serving as both writer and director of original material again, the filmmaker has a particular and singular clarity of vision. Told in a roundabout, narrated kind of fashion the film obviously looks pretty good and has a legitimate flow to it all from top to bottom. While it’s admittedly a little over stuffed with characters he does at least put in the effort to establish most of them in an effective fashion.
It’s all following some very familiar and well-worn beats throughout that audiences will have very much seen before, but he runs through them with top notch execution to the point that you won’t really mind that you’ve seen this story before as the screenplay and dialogue is simply unprecedented by director Ritchie himself, bringing joke after joke, while taking you on a thrilling ride full of genius twists and new ways to incorporate classic gangster cinema.
Interestingly enough, while the film does move pretty fast, there’s a fair amount of restraint when it comes to the speed and execution of the plot, as it takes its time weaving its story, especially in an exposition heavy first act, with the narrative device of Fletcher, spinning this tale taking some getting used to.
But once the film finds its groove, it doesn’t take long for the charm to sink in, as the film finds its rhythm and proceeds to conduct its own symphony of action, comedy, and swearing.
Aesthetically, the film is very much in the mold of director Ritchie‘s previous films, as Fletcher frames his narration as a screenplay, which allows the film to employ a multitude of self-reflexive devices from a smash cut coinciding with Fletcher asking Ray to visualize a smash cut, a voiceover transitioning into spoken dialogue, on-screen captions introducing the cast, freeze-frames and rewinds, and a shot of film running through a projector etc.
At one point, Fletcher is discussing the merits of 2.39:1 over 1.78:1, and the film’s aspect ratio changes accordingly. At another, he’s arguing for the merits of 35mm celluloid over digital, saying he likes the grain of celluloid photography, and the film duly switches formats. Such playfulness means that it never for a second takes itself too seriously, with probably the most self-reflexive moment coming towards the end, when Fletcher visits the London office of Miramax (the actual producers of the film), and we see a poster for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the background.
Granted, the film seems stuck in the last decade in more ways than one, it’s highly questionable that the only gay character is a slimy proponent who’ll sleep with pretty much anyone, its only female character barely has a characterization, and director Ritchie does absolutely nothing new here, in the sense, if you’ve seen his earlier films, you’ll know pretty much how the film will turn out. But the catch remains that the film is still hugely entertaining! Most of the jokes land, the dialogue is as sharp and expletive-laden as ever, the cast are having a ball, and the self-reflexivity, although a little forced in places, works well for the most part.
Coming to the cast, which comprises of one of the best acting ensembles in recent cinema history, the performances are excellent throughout. Matthew McConaughey is basically channeling a version of the cool, slick of himself, with his charm raised up to 100. And knowing McConaughey, he is effortless once as always. Charlie Hunnam is solid as his heavy and second in command, while Henry Golding does feel a little out of his element here, even though he seems to giving it his best.
Without a doubt, Hugh Grant and Colin Farrell have the most scene stealing sequences, and deliver promptly on their humor. In supporting roles, Michelle Dockery, Eddie Marsan and Jeremy Strong also quite good. On the whole, ‘The Gentlemen’ is a fun, original, and expletive loaded crime caper that is full of swagger and style.
Directed – Guy Ritchie
Rated – R
Run Time – 113 minutes