Ritchie is back to doing what he does best: sharp and stylish gangster pictures populated with sprawling casts, clever plotting and lots of cockney accents.
After multiple, inconsistent excursions into the world of tentpole filmmaking, director Guy Ritchie is back to doing what he does best: sharp and stylish gangster pictures populated with sprawling casts, clever plotting and lots of cockney accents. The Gentlemen, a welcome return to form, begs the question, why did it take him so long to get back to this formula?
While owing heavily to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Ritchie’s latest benefits from his years away from the genre. It’s a more visually assured and measured approximation of the kind of picture that made him a brand name in Hollywood, complete with one of the most entertaining casts he’s ever corralled.
Matthew McConaughey leads as Mickey Pearson, an erudite marijuana baron whose years as a kingpin are drawing to a close. While trying to sell his entire UK-based operation to a fellow American (Jeremy Strong), Pearson has to stave off a cascading onslaught of fuckery from all angles. From a slighted editor in chief of a major newspaper (Eddie Marsan) to an upstart hood who wants power (Henry Golding) to numerous other conflicting interests and factors, Pearson has to balance wanting to go straight and having to maintain his status as a king long enough to bow out of the game gracefully.
But this being a Guy Ritchie movie, in the purest sense of the phrase, the linear plot is further complicated by the structure that surrounds it. Rather than framing all of this as a straightforward pot boiler from Pearson’s perspective, it’s largely staged as a dialogue between Pearson’s right hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) and a mincing, sleazy journalist played with scenery chewing glee by Hugh Grant. Grant’s Fletcher has been hired by Marsan’s Big Dave to do a hatchet job on Pearson, so Fletcher wants to give all the dirty info he’s gathered over in exchange for a huge sum of money.
It’s in this nesting doll structure that the film gains much of its power. The thrill of Ritchie’s style isn’t just in the characters or the narrative, but in the absurd and exaggerated way we’re introduced to the world he’s created and the charming house of cards he sets up. Every new scene introduces another puzzle piece character who, on their own, could conceivably anchor a smaller, still entertaining film all their own, so the fun lies in how they’re all going to interact with the larger plot at hand. The guessing game of which ridiculous supporting players will prove themselves to be important villains and which will wind up punchlines in service of his pet themes keeps the proceedings from getting stale.
While the typical needle drops and frenetic editing are all instrumental for maintaining the Ritchie flair, The Gentlemen succeeds largely on the backs of its amazing cast. Golding is a revelation, stepping outside his usual type-casting as the good boyfriend to play a proper shithead we can’t take our eyes off of. Ditto Grant and Hunnam for playing opposite ends of the ostentatious scale, the former hamming it up and the latter going the cool and reserved route.
But for the record, Colin Farrell steals the entire movie as Coach, an old school hard man who takes in young street kids and teaches them boxing so they won’t wind up in the gangster life. He exudes such a unique energy in the role, implying the potential for a whole Mighty Ducks-esque spin-off about his kids listening to grime music and competing in tournaments, but he fits into the larger narrative with ease.
It’s likely Ritchie is just using The Gentlemen as a stopgap before going back to bigger projects like Disney’s Aladdin remake from last year, but if nothing else, this movie proves he could reasonably stick to what he does best forever, churning out variations on the same profile for years to come, and there’s enough English actors who like wearing nice suits to keep it going in perpetuity.