In 1998, filmmaker Guy Ritchie burst onto the scene with his modernized reinvention of the “British geezer gangster” movie, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Just the title alone felt innovative. A hyperkinetic style chalk full of guns, violence and tough guy talking heads. One might look at this vision as a poor man’s Tarantino but at the time it felt like something entirely new. In 2000, he cemented his name in pop culture with Snatch. A genuine step up from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with a larger cast, more guns, more violence and more pulp.
Then in 2002 tragedy struck: he made the Swept Away remake with his then wife Madonna – a laughable, misogynistic catastrophe and a complete waste of film equipment. So what does he do? He goes back to the fast-paced fanboy shoot ‘em up claptrap that made him popular in the first place. Unloading an enjoyable though uneven one two punch with 2005’s Revolver and 2008’s RocknRolla. Following several slightly out of his comfort zone big studio pictures (i.e. 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, 2019’s Aladdin), Ritchie returns to form in 2020 with The Gentlemen. A form that is shockingly refreshing given its release in the month movies go to die.
In theaters Friday, January 24 via STXfilms, The Gentlemen stars probably the coolest, hippest cast in a Ritchie jaunt since Snatch. Matthew McConaughey (U-571 2000, Magic Mike 2012) as Mickey Pearson, Hugh Grant (Nothing Hill 1999, About A Boy 2002) as Fletcher, Eddie Marsan (21 Grams 2003, The World’s End 2013) as Big Dave, Colin Farrell (S.W.A.T. 2003, The Lobster 2015) as Coach, Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim 2013, Crimson Peak 2015) as Ray, Michelle Dockery (Downtown Abbey series, Non-Stop 2014) as Rosalind Pearson, Jeremy Strong (The Happening 2008, The Big Shot 2015) as Matthew, and Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians 2018, Last Christmas 2019) as Dry Eye round out the colorful ensemble of eccentric characters whom all border on caricature.
McConaughey, in classic McConaughey fashion, plays Mickey, as the owner of a large drug empire and the weed lord of England. Grant, in a somewhat unrecognizable performance, plays sleazy private detective Fletcher who has legit dirt on Mickey and wishes to sell it to the highest bidder. That particular bidder being Marsan as Big Dave, who manages to make Fletcher look like a choir boy. What follows are unpredictable twists, turns, double crosses and a lot of fatalities.
Say what you want about Ritchie but one thing he is consistent with is taking average actors and churning out some of their best work (i.e. Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham). Grant, who oddly enough has been having a bit of a renaissance of late, chews up every scene he inhabits as Fletcher. With a romantic comedy structure to his career (not unlike his co-star McConaughey), there is no doubt Grant leapt at the chance to play such a vile slime ball with no morals. Golding, who typically plays pretty boy annoyances on the big screen, is perfectly cast as one of the key antagonists, Dry Eye. Or a “Chinese James Bond,” as Fletcher refers to him. However it is Farrell, who plays Coach, who probably has the best intro than any other character in the whole film and arguably a standout who deserved more screen time.
Does The Gentleman have the typical storytelling problems that Ritchie’s previous gangster movies contain? Of course. There is subplots galore, too many characters, too many shifts, it is a little too long – but Ritchie is clever. He is completely aware that his films are what they are, and they are mostly all about the style and the general coolness. So in order to trick the viewer into figuring out plot holes, he just puts the film’s speed on maximum overdrive so that you will never be able to catch up; you’re just going along for the moment to moment ride of it all. He is a director that is constantly throwing everything and the kitchen sink in to keep your attention. Superimposed title cards, sped up shots, slowed down shots, whip pans, everything and anything goes.
Now we all know these types of British gangsters were not entertaining in the slightest in real life; they were not nice people nor were they nice to women. They were extremely unpleasant, mentally disturbed vultures. Perhaps Snatch touched on that element slightly but that’s not what Ritchie does overall. He does not want to dig too deep into the psychosis of these people, he wants to exploit the most enjoyable traits of them and turn it up to eleven. He clearly believes in the artifice and power of hyper-reality. It is a style he is secure with and can execute in his sleep, and it certainly makes for a fun time at the movies with The Gentlemen. That is why Cryptic Rock gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars.