Guy Ritchie delivers a great, fun crime story.
As a brief introduction, I realized shortly prior to my screening that I don’t have the deepest experience with Guy Ritchie movies. Last year’s live-action Aladdin and the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films appear to be the only other films in his catalogue that I’ve seen, but based on my enjoyment of The Gentlemen, I’ll likely be seeking out some of his other films like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels very soon.
Guy Ritchie’s latest film The Gentlemen, centers around Matthew McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson, an American from the South who rose out of his lower-class upbringing to attend Oxford University before dropping out to be a marijuana kingpin in the United Kingdom. As he begins thinking about retirement, a turf war threatens to disrupt his operation just as he begins making plans to sell it.
Much of the film’s framing comes in the form of Fletcher, a charmingly sleazy Hugh Grant. Fletcher works as an investigative reporter who has been hired to spy on Mickey and dig up some dirt on him. He meets with Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) to share what he has uncovered, partly as a courtesy, but mostly as a shakedown since he’s asking for $20 million dollars to forget what he has learned. Ever the showman, Fletcher presents all of his juicy details as if he were pitching a movie and so we, the audience, experience the events as he conveys them. Guy Ritchie utilizes this framework with a lot of levity, playing around with how Fletcher and Raymond might comment on the action of a scene in voiceover or even Fletcher’s own perspective as the not-always-reliable narrator. Oftentimes, some of the funniest moments in the film feature something outlandish occurring, then a smash-cut to other characters reacting to that event after the fact, thanks to this construct.
Acting opposite the scene-stealing Hugh Grant for much of the film, Charlie Hunnam plays Ray as a measured straight man to Fletcher’s larger-than-life comedy. Ray lets Fletcher have his fun but maintains control of the situation throughout, often shutting Fletcher down with nothing more than a quiet stare. Matthew McConaughey serves as a great central protagonist in the film. As an outsider who has had to fight for everything he’s earned in the film, Mickey has risen to the king of all he purveys. But he recognizes that the times are changing and his empire will need to change without him as the tide turns toward the legalization of his supply so he has resigned himself to step aside and retire into a more suitable life with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery).
Henry Golding gets to have some fun playing against his Crazy Rich Asians or Last Christmas leading-man type as a rival drug boss ready to disrupt Mickey’s plans. Meanwhile, Colin Farrell is another standout performance in the role of Coach, the unwitting head of a boxing gym who gets wrapped up in the feud when some of his students attack one of Mickey’s pot farms on their off hours.
Ritchie puts an incredible focus on the pace of the film and the whole movie clips along without ever feeling like it’s dragging. In a livestreamed Q&A session following my screening, Ritchie described how he loves exploring the musicality of his films and the dialogue in The Gentlemen is certainly a testament to that, Words are never wasted and the characters say exactly what they mean to say, or exactly what they intend for others to hear. Similarly, the film’s deliberate editing ensures that we never linger too long on a moment before moving on to the next beat of the story.
While the film doesn’t have a lot in the way of big, bombastic action, there are a few fun sequences that even play around with how they are presented. Sometimes this might come from exploring the heightened experiences that an unreliable narrator like Fletcher might describe. Other times it might take the form of filming a fight scene on a series of face-mounted cameras and editing that footage into an aspiring viral video.
Special mention must be made of the humor in the film, too. Comedy, of course, is always subjective so your mileage may vary but this was one of the funniest films I’ve seen in the past year. Perhaps part of them stems from my inexperience with Ritchie’s tone so it was more of a surprise than a fan of his work might have expected going in. But there were so many delightful surprises that played against what I was expecting, while still feeling completely genuine to the characters as presented, that I was laughing throughout. As mentioned above, some of the film’s brightest moments occur when we the audience see something incredible and outlandish and then we immediately cut to another character, who has clearly just learned about what happened, reacting in kind.
The Gentlemen is a delightfully fun, fast-paced crime adventure. Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, and Colin Farrell deliver some of the film’s greatest performances but everyone shows up to play in Guy Ritchie’s sandbox. After a few months of Awards season dramas, this made for a wonderful change of pace.
8.0 / 10
That Great Film
- Hugh Grant’s performance
- Fast pacing
- Great comedy
- A somewhat predictable “mystery”
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