The Gentlemen. Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam and Michelle Dockery. Rating: 7 (out of 10)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the playful side of Guy Ritchie.
A former music video director, Ritchie burst onto screens with his underworld crime caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a breath of fresh cockney air with its sing-song rhyming slang and slick visuals. Snatch, a film in the same vein and starring Brad Pitt as an unintelligible Irish gypsy, quickly followed, as did RocknRolla.
But afterwards Ritchie changed tack, helming a flop (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which failed to make back its budget) and a hit (last year’s live-action Aladdin) and a few middling Sherlock Holmes movies in between. The Gentlemen sees him return to form, with an entertaining and quick-paced mix of colourful characters, enthusiastic violence and keen wordplay.
Whereas Lock Stock was notable for launching the career of Jason Statham and showcasing unknowns – such as ex-footballer Vinnie Jones – The Gentlemen is chock full of stars and well-knowns: even the barman is someone we feel we’ve seen before.
Things are led by Matthew McConaughey as Michael “Mickey” Pearson, an American who’s been living in England ever since putting his Oxford education to good use in developing a highly profitable marijuana empire. Mickey grows a heady hybrid strain and stores them on lands he rents from down-on-their-luck aristocrats, a private-estate moneymaker that could’ve pushed Downton Abbey back in the black.
Speaking of Downton, Michelle Dockery plays Mickey’s “Cockney Cleopatra,” his wife Rosalind. Mickey has decided to retire in order to spend more time with Ros and enjoy the tony life to which they have become accustomed. The plan is to sell the business to fellow American Matthew (Jeremy Strong), but when he goes behind Mickey’s back in an effort to drive down the asking price, a gaggle of goons come to claim the business.
The most volatile of these is a young, wannabe triad druglord Dry Eye (Henry Golding). Dry Eye wants to steal the business at his own price, bypassing the bad guys’ code of conduct. Also entering the fray is Coach (Colin Farrell), a boxing instructor who mentors disadvantaged youth. When some of his boys rob one of Mickey’s grow-ops and post a viral video online, Coach takes one for the team by offering his services to Mickey to repay the boys’ debt.
All of this is framed – unreliably – by a no-allegiance private investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who delivers the story piecemeal to Mickey’s right-hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) in an effort to blackmail his boss. Because we’re getting the story second-hand some parts may be embellished, some are rewinded and retold.
Ritchie toys with the British class system and our North American preoccupation with it, but mostly The Gentlemen is just good, raunchy fun. Where Ritchie succeeds is in the rich characterization of even the most peripheral roles, all of whom are quirky and memorable.
Of course the director can’t resist putting in some of his trademark visual flourishes, as well as liberal use of the c-word: Ros says it best when she deadpans “there’s f—ckery afoot.”