The Gentlemen (2020)
Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen sees the 51-year-old writer-director return to his roots with another gangster geezer crime caper, the subgenre that kick-started his career back in the late nineties. Having refined his skills since 1998’s raw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000’s Snatch, it seems that Ritchie has learned a thing or two helming sizable Hollywood flicks, such as 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot, the critically mangled King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), which I actually liked, and 2019’s über-profitable live-action version of Aladdin. Ritchie’s also managed to make a ton of friends along the way as he’s enlisted a killer all-star cast, the wacky performances truly making The Gentlemen feel like a boorish homecoming of sorts, the movie a riotous, return to form for a filmmaker that many seem to think has lost his way.
The movie begins in medias res, as Matthew McConaughey’s slippery Yank criminal Mickey Pearson moseys into a pub in London, orders a pint and a pickled egg, then swiftly gets shot in the head (or does he?) by a mysterious shooter. After a slick opening credit sequence that features David Rawlings ‘Cumberland Gap,’ we flash backward and are introduced to Hugh Grant’s cheeky Fletcher, a sleazy PI who gets his kicks out of digging up dirt on the rich and famous, for a hefty pack check from whoever’s willing to cough up the dough. Sporting a dodgy goatee, thick-rimmed glasses, and a delicious cockney accent, Fletcher pops up in the home of Pearson’s understudy Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) with a twenty-million-dollar blackmail demand.
It turns out that Grant’s Fletcher is in the know when it comes to Pearson’s unlawful dealings, having written a whole Ritchie-esque screenplay on his findings that he’s called ‘Bush’ — which he’s eager to sell. Through Fletcher and Raymond’s amusing banter, we discover that Pearson has spent the last twenty-or-so years building a sizable marijuana empire for himself while studying abroad, hiding his cannabis plantations underneath impoverished country estates for large sums of cash. Sick of the drug-dealing game, Pearson has early retirement on the mind, hoping to sell off his lucrative business to fellow American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) in order to spend more time with his smokin’ Essex gal missus Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). Things, however, go pear-shaped after a bunch of botched trades and double-crosses, with many trying to drive the sale price down to get a piece of the pie. And from there, the game is afoot as another dishonor-amongst-thieves exploit ensues.
Although a little too convoluted and sometimes hard to follow, Ritchie’s love for East End lowlifes and flamboyant dialogue really shines through in The Gentlemen, with his script — story credit goes to Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies — coming off as very ’90s, peppered with countless f-bombs, c-bombs, and offensive un-PC jokes, several centered around Chinese people and how their names can often sound like rude words. There’s also a myriad of film references as Fletcher (who claims to be some sort of cinephile) yaps on about things such as 35mm lensing and the narrative intricacy of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), which he admits he found a bit boring (so did I, to be honest). We also get nods to Quentin Tarantino (there’s a scene where two men peer into the boot of a car, Pulp Fiction style) and 1980’s The Long Good Friday. Additionally, there are a bunch of witty self-referential quips, from a *wink, wink* The Man from U.N.C.L.E. poster to a last-act meta gag that’s admittedly worth the price of admission.
Nevertheless, most of the fun in The Gentlemen comes from seeing the performers do their thing, with every star at the top of their game, chewing the scenery with Richie’s trademark mockney dialogue and larger-than-life characters. Hugh Grant, About a Boy (2002), plays against type (and steals the entire movie) as the cunningly sly private-investigator running the show, while the always-reliable Matthew McConaughey, Mud (2012), wholly sells the part of the Oxford-studied horticulture expert/ business extraordinaire Mickey. Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey (2019), more than holds her own in this boys-club as Mickey’s wife and garage owner Rosalind, the pair fiercely independent while apart, never relying on one another, yet explosive when they’re coupled.
Elsewhere, Colin Farrell, In Bruges (2008), is hella good as an Irish boxing trainer referred to as Coach, who’s mentoring a bunch of troubled street kids, rappers, beatboxers and so on, dubbed The Toddlers, the 43-year-old actor even pulling off the many plaid outfits his character is often sporting. British-Malaysian up-and-comer Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians (2018), fares a little worse, playing against type as Dry Eye, a ruthless scion of a hard-nosed East Asian drug syndicate. Lastly, Eddie Marsan, Deadpool 2 (2018), does his usual slime ball thing as an unscrupulous tabloid editor referred to as Big Dave, who Fletcher is seemingly working for. Oh, and look out for musician Eliot Sumner in a minor yet haunting role as Laura Pressfield, a drug-dependent daughter of an aristocratic big shot.
Sleekly shot by cinematographer Alan Stewart, Aladdin (2019), and well-edited by regular collaborator James Herbert, who, fully in tune with Ritchie’s kinetic MO, knows how to cut and paste these types of complex capers, The Gentlemen is a rude, crude and ill-mannered good time — and a welcome return of classic Richie! I had a blast spending 113 minutes with this band of disreputable crooks, crims, and artful dodgers, who, let’s be real, are anything but gentlemen.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
The Gentlemen is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia