THE GENTLEMEN (Directed by Guy Ritchie, 113 minutes, USA, 2020)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC It’s been a while since Guy Ritchie made a good gangster film. Hell, it’s been a while since Guy Ritchie made any kind of movie that was good. Well, I’m happy to report his latest is a much welcomed, long-overdue return to form. After turning in a string of terrible/forgettable clunkers, like that terrible King Arthur flick and what for my money was the worst of the Disney live-action remakes (Aladdin), Ritchie is going back to basics. The Gentlemen has Ritchie doing just what he does best, a pulpy British gangster shoot’em up, now streaming on VOD.
The Gentlemen is the story of Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a poor kid from the states, who wins a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University and promptly parlays parlays it into an overseas drug empire. Combining street smarts with book smarts, Mickey embeds himself in English high society and sets up shop with a respectable weed business, selling reefer to his classmates before getting called up to the major leagues. When the film catches up with Mickey he’s embroiled in a gang war, just as he is about to sell off his 12 cannabis farms along with his distribution channels, which will net him 400 million pounds. But his planned exit from the game to join high society proper is perceived as a sign of weakness by some of his peers, who are attempting to plunder his kingdom before he can sell it. The story of this Shakespearean power struggle, and its many twists and turns are recounted to us through an attempted blackmail subplot. Our narrator being private investigator/tabloid journalist Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who is attempting to “sell” Mickey’s second in command Ray (Charlie Hunnam) his “pitch” and materials for the feature film adaption of Mickey’s life – to make them go away.
The film is a guns blazing return to form for the director that feels a bit more grounded than Snatch or Lock, Stock, but still has the larger than life characters we’ve come to expect. Matthew McConaughey here is a bit more calm, cool and collected than I expected, but nevertheless manages to be completely lethal and unnerving every second he’s onscreen. He’s definitely pushing his king of the jungle vibe, here. Mickey is the intellectual to Hunnam’s everyman Ray who serves as his primary enforcer, turning in some of his best work since Sons of Anarchy as an immaculately dressed goon who is just trying to do the best job he can. Every Ritchie film has its standout wacko however, and in The Gentlemen it’s The Coach (Colin Farrell), a boxing coach indebted to Mickey thanks to The Toddlers, aka his gang of track suit-clad lackeys who film themselves knocking over one of Mickey’s weed farms and edit the incominating footage into a grime music video. The Coach goes to some terrifyingly dark and hilarious lengths to earn his way out of Mickey’s pocket, proving just how underrated Farrell is as he steals the film out from under Hunnam and McConaughey every time he comes into frame.
Personally, I think Ritchie should just stay away from the Hollywood fare and just kick out a gangster film every 10 years, I think his career and reputation would be much better off. I mean it’s what Tarantino does, sticking to his strengths and he hasn’t had a clunker yet. But imagine Tarantino trying to make a PG-rated Disney film? I don’t think he would have fared much better, honestly. I came into The Gentlemen expecting the director to ride his own nostalgia for a fun rehash, but here Ritchie turns in something that stands well enough on its own and downright surprised me. He even borrows a page from Black Mirror for one of the film’s more shocking moments. If I had to rank Ritchie’s gangster flicks this would be a solid second place for me, it’s hard to beat seeing Lock, Stock for the first time, but this definitely beats Snatch with its stellar ensemble and a self aware script that at least for me, showcased just what made Guy Ritchie blow up big as a filmmaker more than 30 years ago.