The Gentlemen

UK (2019) Dir. Guy Ritchie

Criminals know they are not nice people though I doubt they really care as they long as they have money, power, and loyal scumbags willing to get their hands dirty on their behalf. So, how is it then that even though they know criminals are also awful people they are still bemused when they are double-crossed?

American multi-millionaire drugs baron Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) upsets powerful newspaper editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) by snubbing him at a party and now Dave wants revenge on Mickey with an expose in is paper. He gets private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) to look into Mickey’s connections to a wealthy Duke with a junkie daughter.

Fletcher discovers a huge mess involving many criminal gangs but instead of giving his findings to Dave, he goes to Mickey’s right hand man Raymond Smith (Charlie Hunnam), presenting the info in the form of film screenplay, then asks for £20 million for him to stay quiet and leave the country, or Dave gets the scoop. Raymond knows he has to protect his boss’s interest so he tricks Fletcher into revealing just how much he knows about Mickey’s life.

Like many directors before him, Guy Ritchie was seduced by the bright lights and huge budgets of Hollywood, leaving dreary Old Blighty behind after making his name as an exciting new voice in British cinema with the seminal Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels. Unfortunately, after making flops with his then wife Madonna, Ritchie went to Hollywood to expand his profile.

His Sherlock Holmes reboot was a promising start but things went downhill again so Ritchie decided to return to his UK roots in an attempt to recapture the glory days of his debut. The Gentlemen is certainly that, an attempt to reproduce the old magic of nearly 25 years ago, yet doesn’t find Ritchie any older and wiser – in other words, in trying to appeal to younger audiences, this feels like a parody of his earlier films for older fans.

Stylistically, Ritchie throws every visual trick in the book onto the screen so we know this is his handiwork – bold graphics and textures emblazoned everywhere, flashy, quick cut editing – with an extra layer of glitz brought back from Tinsel Town. This leaves the grit to come from the story and the acting, alas even that is in short supply, profanity aside. This is one area where Ritchie might be trying too hard – every single main character uses the “C” word multiple times as if this is meant to be edgy.  

The story isn’t too bad, pretty standard fare with plenty of twists but Ritchie overeggs the pudding a little, held back by a sluggish, prolix first act that will have people itching for some action. This comes after an enticing opening in which Mickey sits in a pub, talking on the phone when we hear a gunshot and his pint is soiled with blood. A nice start but one which sets expectations quite high.

Going meta with Fletcher’s report as a film script is a cute idea, but Ritchie laying on the inside terminology comes off as pretentious, despite this basically being Fletcher’s entire character. Like everyone else in the extended cast, Fletcher is a loquacious chap, ready with inventive similes and analogies, though he is the campest of the lot, with American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) a close second.

Berger is the one who wants to purchase Mickey’s business for £400 million, afforded the rare opportunity to see how Mickey is able to produce so much cannabis undetected with such consistency. However, a gang of thieves break in to the plant, taking a huge amount of stock with them, filming it for YouTube to embarrass Mickey, so he puts Raymond on the case to track them down, which is where things start to get messy.

Raymond learns the thieves are MMA fighters training under Coach (Colin Farrell), hired by a low level goon working for Chinese crime boss Lord George (Tom Wu), whose number two Dry Eye (Henry Golding) is doing deals behind his back in his attempt to become the new leader. Coach doesn’t want his boys to get into trouble so he offers to make amends himself by working for Raymond.

It is a very busy script, and to Ritchie’s credit, it doesn’t get so confusing that it becomes hard to follow, but it is over stuffed with so many characters and gangs, the twists aren’t as surprising as they should be from too many people ending up on the periphery. But it’s all good fun in the end, just not as clever as Ritchie thinks it is which made his earlier films so good, hence the parody reference earlier.  

Despite being an American production with an American star, this is resolutely British in feel and attitude, boasting many top UK names in the cast. Standing out the most is Hugh Grant by doing a very bad Michael Caine impression with his cockney accent since he is a posh boy in real life, which becomes very distracting. Similarly affected is Michelle Dockery of Downtown Abbey fame, also struggling against her usual upper class type.

Yet this is promoted as comedy drama so Grant’s performance can be taken with a pinch of salt. Maybe we should applaud his willingness to break with the norm but maybe it would have worked better with somebody more natural in the role. That said, seeing is believing so maybe that was the intention. At least Matthew McConaughey and Colin Farrell get to keep their own accents.

Whether The Gentlemen is Ritchie back on form will be subjective. In many ways, it is as this seems to be his comfort zone but the ideas aren’t so fresh as a consequence, but it works more than it fails. Slightly long at 113-minutes, it could have been much worse so take it as it comes to get the most out of it.

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