DIRECTED BY: GUY RITCHIE/2020
Gangstas, guns, gin, gents, and ganja are the stuff of Guy Ritchie’s return to his former British crime-laden playground in the all new film The Gentlemen. After the under-performing, but fun, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the box office disappointments of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Aladdin, Ritchie heads back into familiar territory occupied by his earlier films Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch. The result is one of Ritchie’s lightest and most fun films post Sherlock Holmes, that goes down smooth, with minimal side effects.
There are many threads that slowly rolled together across the course of the film. The story involves Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a slimy individual who digs up the dirt on powerful people in order to sell to the highest bidder. His latest target is the American weed-king of Great Britain named Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) who is looking to get out of the marijuana business to fully settle down with his British wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery).
With Mickey looking to get out, some mistakenly think that this means he has gone soft and try driving down the price of his drug empire, or targeting he and his wife outright. Fletcher is trying to sell what he knows to Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam). Others are out to take their crack at climbing to the top of the mountain such as Dry Eye (Henry Golding), Lord George (Tom Wu), Matthew (Jeremy Strong), and a hilarious assortment of MMA fighters who also do jobs on the side, blowing their covers to shoot gansta-rap videos of their exploits to the chagrin of their “coach” (Colin Farrell) who is trying to help these lads from falling back into a life of crime.
As Fletcher pushes this information, Ritchie weaves a fantastic web of purely enjoyable organized chaos built off of a free flowing narrative that jumps between genres, his stylized smash cuts, rhythmic cadences, comedy, and brutal gore. A hard-R, The Gentlemen is filled with rough language, especially those terms favored by Ritchie’s British gangsters in his previous films. All of this is grounded in a clever look at the social classes of society that exist and some of the root causes of our collective human depravity, all through a lens of fast paced action, dialogue and fun.
Following the screening, hosted by Alamo Drafthouse, the founder of the Drafthouse, Tim League, spoke to Guy Ritchie, Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, and Michelle Dockery about the film. One common narrative Ritchie kept returning to was how he put together a scene, letting the script serve as a foundation for what he wanted to ultimately build, but letting the actors run with their parts to help create a more organic collaboration that would serve as the structure of it all. This would affect the dialogue and pacing of any script changes and then they would film what worked best. This seemed to have worked, as each part feels authentically lived in by each of the actors that inhabit it as the film plays out.
The Gentlemen seems to contain the smoothest dialogue of any of Ritchie’s films that I have seen. Ritchie also spoke about trying to have a rhythm and cadence between the dialogue and action on the screen and the music he chose to accompany it in any given scene. Each scene works with its own unique piece of music that spans genres, and generations, to create something wholly original and still modern.
There are several stand-out performances. The first is seeing Lady Mary, herself, from Downton Abbey, flip the switch from such a period piece to one where she is the owner of a chop shop working on cars, who encourages her husband’s drug empire, but who built something of her own that she runs with just as an equal iron-fist as he. Henry Golding gives a complete 180-degree turn from his perfect guy image from Crazy Rich Asians, and really leans into the role as if he was Scarface himself. Hugh Grant has long-since kissed the rom-com goodbye and embraces his villainous role to great effect.
The breakout performance of the film, however, belongs to Mr. Colin Farrell. He provides a calming presence to each scene through his quiet natured character, but shocks through his abrupt ability to do great violence, albeit reluctantly, while maintaining his calm demur over what his “boys” have gotten themselves into.
All in all, Guy Ritchie has delivered the goods for a fun romp with his latest criminal gangs in a film that is not your typical January flop. I truly believe this film could have found a stronger audience in the summertime. Either way, Ritchie invites you to come to the theater, sit back, and enjoy his latest offering. As long as you are into seedy criminal tales filled with comedy and violence (and loads of swear words), this film goes down smoothly. The Gentlemen are lots of fun.