Welcome Back, Guy Ritchie
Where have you been, Guy Ritchie? We’ve missed your language, your punch, your sleight of hand, and that self-referential swagger that defined your early days as a filmmaker. We got hardly any of that as you set out for more commercial ventures like Swept Away, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and, of course, the unapologetic cash-grab of last year’s remake of Aladdin. But we sat patiently as we understand that even the good ones must stray outside their comfort zones from time to time lest they be accused of becoming stale and unimaginative – not to mention poor. Well, with The Gentlemen, we’re glad to see your return to the genre and the type of characters to which you always give an indelible and unique flavor. Something you do so well. Welcome back, Guy! We missed you.
Writer/director Guy Ritchie returns to his old stomping grounds of the London gang world with The Gentlemen, a star-studded, and sophisticated, yet unpolished action comedy that reminds us of what we so loved about the filmmaker’s early years. He has always had a steady command of black comedic tone and a uniquely stylistic verve that says, “this is a Guy Ritchie film.” With a flair for rapid-fire dialogue and a penchant for using pop classics in the soundtrack, some detractors always had him pegged as a Tarantino wannabe. Sure, those comparisons are fair, and there’s even a scene in The Gentlemen that features a bad guy’s POV from inside an opened car trunk. But he’s also one of the best at featuring characters who riff off one another like a well-tuned jazz ensemble.
Originally conceived a decade ago as a television series, The Gentlemen gets its drive from its characters. And no one captures charm and charisma quite like Ritchie does. The all-star cast is headed up by Matthew McConaughey as American expat Mickey Pearson, who stayed in England after attaining his Oxford degree and now runs U.K.’s biggest marijuana enterprise out of London. It’s not long after Mickey and wife Rosalind (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery) decide to get out of the industry and sell their lucrative grow operation, that word gets out to a whole host of colorful characters who try to cheat, bribe, and blackmail their way into Mickey’s business. It soon becomes clear that there aren’t a lot of gentlemen in this equation.
Mickey’s most serious potential buyer turns up in the form of another American businessman named Matthew, played by Succession’s Jeremy Strong. Plans start to unravel, however, when Mickey’s operation is raided by a gang of track-suit-wearing hoodlums while, at the same time, the greedy head of a local Chinese crime syndicate (Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding) makes a move for a part of Mickey’s pot plantation.
This swirling web of bribery and murder is narrated by Fletcher, a disreputable private investigator (Hugh Grant) hired by a sleazy tabloid to dig up dirt on Mickey. The frenzied proceedings are framed by a running discussion between Fletcher and Mickey’s right-hand-man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam) who listens intently to Fletcher’s pitch while also hoping to glean any new tidbits about the break-in at Mickey’s pot farm. We swap back and forth between their conversation and the rough-and-tumble goings-on of multi-million dollar crime syndicates looking to move on Mickey.
Ritchie, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, does a great job of keeping his twisting corkscrew of a story from imploding under its own weight. As with his previous Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of, yet the story’s numerous threads are never too complicated and work brilliantly as a casual loop of sorts. The result is a funny, smart, violent, and always politically incorrect romp through the London underworld.
Another of Ritchie’s big wins with The Gentlemen is the grasp he has on the stellar ensemble cast that also includes Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan, and Lyne Renee who fold into a true rogue’s gallery of mobsters, hitmen, boxers, and murderous breakdancers. As always, McConaughey plays his Mickey with a genial sophistication that is cooler than the other side of the pillow, but it is Grant’s private dick who steals the show with his hilarious cockney-intonated narration of the whacky events that unfold before us.
It’s good to have you back, Mr. Ritchie. The Gentlemen is a total blast. And with your next film – Cash Truck, starring Jason Statham – in the can, we’re already looking forward to what you have in store for us next.
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com
(Released by STX Films and rated “R” for violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content.)