The Gentlemen, 2020.
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong and Eddie Marsan.
An American businessman who controls much of London’s cannabis trade becomes a target for many underworld figures when rumours of his retirement begin to circulate.
Guy Ritchie’s filmography is a kaleidoscope of highs and lows, from the gangster one-two punch of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch through to the tedious complexity of Revolver and the sheer awfulness of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. When your film’s so bad that David Beckham steals the show, you know you’re in trouble. So it’s perhaps understandable that Ritchie is returning to his roots with The Gentlemen – a raucous, rude gangster epic with an immature sense of humour.
The Gentlemen stakes its claim from its first moments, in which Matthew McConaughey’s drug kingpin Mickey Pearson walks into a very British pub and asks for “a pint and a pickled egg”. Soon, a gunshot has been fired and the storytelling baton is passed to foul-mouthed PI Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who is sitting down with Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) to spin a yarn. Fletcher has uncovered a vast power struggle surrounding Mickey, who has hinted at plans to sell off his marijuana empire. Numerous gangsters and shady characters become involved, including Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), Dry Eye (Henry Golding) and Coach (Colin Farrell).
The structure here is tricksy, with Grant playing deliciously against type as a sweary unreliable narrator. His snooping means he knows a lot of the story, but he’s willing to invent the stuff he has missed. “Every movie needs a bit of action,” he says when challenged on one imagined bit of carnage. The story jumps around chronologically and has a deliberately haphazard feel, albeit one that never quite snaps together in the satisfying way it seems destined and indeed constructed to achieve. Everything about The Gentlemen is raggedy – a shaggy drug tale.
It’s a story enlivened by its performers, who seem to relish the crass immaturity of Ritchie’s script, which is partially comprised of verbose swearing and partially of politically incorrect quips that sail very close to the wind. Mostly, the fact these characters are a motley crew of arseholes provides something of a protective film shielding the audience from being complicit in their awfulness, but there are a handful of moments that flirt a little too closely with the line and, indeed, waltz right over it. It’s a line that Grant, in particular, delights in walking, complete with ludicrous Cockney accent and a parade of C-words.
McConaughey’s work is less showy, holding the film together alongside Hunnam, who delivers one of his best performances in years as the dealer’s stoic, dependable ally. Just about everyone in the ensemble gets chance to shine, with Henry Golding delightfully shedding his romcom clothes for a hideous turn as a mobster who thinks nothing of pissing on corpses. Only Michelle Dockery, described by Grant as a “Cockney Cleopatra”, feels somewhat underused. Make no mistake, this is a blokey film and it could’ve done with a whole lot more of Dockery’s devilish charisma.
But for those who can stomach The Gentlemen‘s rather loose grip on taste, it’s a straight-up crowd-pleaser that will thrill those who have appreciated Ritchie’s previous gangster odysseys. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense and travels down so many blind alleys in search of plot twists that it’s often difficult to work out which bit we’re supposed care about, but Ritchie covers much of that up with sheer style. Grant’s narrator is a cinephile, which allows the director to play with aspect ratios and throw in references to the career of Francis Ford Coppola in amongst the Cockney posturing and double-crosses.
This is a curious beast, which feels as if it has been ripped directly from the late 1990s. It’s not even slightly woke, which presents its fair share of problems, but it’s a compelling look at the dark underbelly of society that pulls a couple of audacious flourishes in its final act. It takes almost every possible gangster idea, throws them all into a wood chipper and serves up the assorted shavings in a bundle which is almost a terrific thriller movie. It’s written with barbed silliness and has never met a piece of nastiness it won’t embrace. I really liked the film, but I feel dirty saying it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.