Guy Ritchie’s The Gentleman is going to surprise and delight many the same way it did for Kristen. The Writer/Director is back with a Game Cast and Wild Script that has all the earmarks of his best work. Just a little shaggier… which adds to the charm.
When Guy Ritchie gave us The Man From UNCLE in 2015 it wasn’t a commercial success but has amassed a devout cult following aided by social media. Ritchie’s The Gentlemen looks like it’ll endure the same fate. Not only will audiences welcome Ritchie’s return to the Brit mob underworld that made him famous, but it seems like the director is happy to be there as well. Though sloppy in execution, The Gentlemen is a rollicking and biting look at everything from international relations to filmmaking, wrapped up in a veneer of polished elegance.
To describe the plot of The Gentlemen is like trying to explain Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep in that it’s highly convoluted. Marijuana kingpin Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) wants to get out of the business before pot becomes legal in the UK. But through a series of stories told by a motormouth tabloid journalist (Hugh Grant), Pearson and his crew get involved in all manner of shenanigans ranging from Russian aristocrats to Asian mafia dons.
You can see in practically every scene Guy Ritchie trying to wash away his last year. After helming the big budget Aladdin for Disney, The Gentlemen is a movie that certainly wouldn’t show on Disney+ and Ritchie is having a ball. Everything is kicked up to 11 here from the harsh language to the violence to the uber-cool sleekness of the men and women. You can also just as easily see the convenience that probably came in making this. There’s a rushed, slapdash feel that probably is because it was a struggle to get all these actors together, but that whole “hey, friends, let’s put on a show” feel is to The Gentlemen’s advantage as it allows Ritchie’s script, filled with meta-humor and potshots at Hollywood and politics, to shine.
Ritchie leans into the personas of his actors, creating a movie that feels akin to other Ritchie imitators like Matthew Vaughn and Martin McDonagh. In fact, that’s a key element of The Gentlemen with its emphasis on the new upstarts supplanting the old establishment. For Mickey, he’s a man so closely associated with “sweet Mary Jane” that it’s comical, though it might also be because Ritchie and McConaughey know the audience will always associate the actor with it. To that end, McConaughey wraps himself around Ritchie’s dialogue like a second skin. He plays a man who is out of his depth, a poser, to the hilt, affecting a faux-British accent to talk to his “chaps.” The only respect he has is through the drug trade and with that opening McConaughey gets a chance to do powerhouse acting in moments where he’s saying campy Ritchie dialogue or defending his beloved Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). More than just being able to gracefully rock Michael Wilkinson’s exquisitely designed suits, McConaughey is a beast fueled on adrenaline and it’s a blast to see.
The other actors are all either Ritchie acolytes or equally skilled in working with dialogue, even when the character isn’t particularly well-defined. Charlie Hunnam, Grant, and Colin Farrell colorfully inhabit their roles. Hunnam goes for a cool, mannered consigliere performance that’s menacing, particularly when he has to put a group of teens in their place. Grant takes a complete 180 from his previous Ritchie work in UNCLE for a character who is a sleazeball and willing to do anything, or anyone, for a scoop. Farrell’s character may be the living embodiment of a deus ex machina; his Coach character always feels like he’s stumbled into the wrong movie, but he’s such fun. The weakest links are found in his newcomers, particularly Jeremy Strong’s effeminate millionaire, Matthew and Henry Golding’s wild Dry Eye. The actors themselves aren’t bad, but the characters are so broadly constructed that they certainly feel out of place.
Much of that haphazard feeling comes from Ritchie’s script which really just throws in everything and the kitchen sink. Several Man From UNCLE elements are utilized, like Ritchie’s penchant for running back to previous events. In this case, Grant’s Fletcher “narrates” the movie, revealing information he knows and changing things to be more cinematic for the script he’s peddling. Like Seven Psychopaths, The Gentlemen is a movie about the struggle to make a movie and based on how Ritchie ties everything together at the end his script is bleakly aware of the struggles to make the movies he wants to make. At the same time, he brings in UNCLE’s homoeroticism and effete sensibilities that makes this just as fun for women to watch as men, especially with how cinematographer Alan Stewart captures the actors’ suits. But concurrently, the movie’s garish extravagance, especially once its starts referencing David Cameron and a pig, makes it seem like Ritchie also wants to reconcile with the last several years of foreign and domestic policy. This makes The Gentlemen feel so much like it’s saying Something Profound and, boy, does he not like you hide from that.
That being said, The Gentlemen is still such a messy masterpiece you can’t help but be charmed by it. The actors are having the time of their lives that it’s infectious and it’s apparent Ritchie needed this as a palette cleanser. If we can get more of these (and a Man From UNCLE sequel) and less Aladdin, Ritchie could rise back up to prominence.