Film review: ‘THE GENTLEMEN’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’
Two decades ago, Guy Ritchie’s quirky, cartoonish but violent British gangster films such as Lock Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels and Snatch were the cinema equivalent of Britpop to Tarantino’s grunge. Featuring a colourful rogues’ gallery of geezers, hard men and con artists tangled up in convoluted scams, Ritchie’s films were ridiculous froth but still fun. In recent years his films have become a more dubious proposition with the irritating mess of Rock’n’Rolla, the annoying cgi-drenched Sherlock Holmes franchise and his awful attempt at reimagining Arthurian mythology with King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword. Admittedly, his uncharacteristic live action reworking of Aladdin in 2019 was passable. With The Gentleman he returns to his English gangster roots and despite some extremely dubious elements, he’s delivered his best film in years.
Like Lock Stock and Snatch, The Gentlemen is a shaggy dog story where the plot convolutions occasionally make it seem as if pages of the script were mangled in the printer. Narrative coherence is at best a secondary consideration, though, as this film is about outrageous comical gangsters, stereotyped tough guys, shaky criminal hierarchies and a few vaguely moral characters trying to emerge from the filth with a shred of humanity intact.
The gentlemen of the title are powerful marijuana mogul Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and his likeable but tough and calculating consigliere Raymond (Charlie Hunnam). Looking to exit the criminal world, the fierce but principled Mickey starts shopping his vast yet clandestine weed empire to potential buyer, the oddly nerdy Matthew (Jeremy Strong). Inevitably, though, the impending power vacuum Mickey’s exit promises to create triggers a feeding frenzy among London’s vicious criminal firms. Intertwined with this familiar ‘battle for the throne’ story are a multitude of sub-plots and character arcs that occasionally become so knotty and confusing they’ll have viewers reaching for the headache tablets. Impressively, though, Ritchie manages to tie these story strands into something coherent. In a vaguely amusing but mostly superfluous piece of self-referential filmmaking, the story is framed as a movie script pitch by sleazeball tabloid journalist Fletcher (Hugh Grant).
While the storyline is often murky and the sing-song cockney argot at times unintelligible, The Gentlemen still works. The film crackles along at such a rapid clip that the cheekiness and energy carry us over the sizeable plot holes and nonsensical parts. Ritchie has also retained his ability to conjure an entertainingly fanciful yet gritty criminal milieu even if his cast don’t quite provide us with the iconic characters of his early films.
The ever-laconic Matthew McConaughey gives Mickey a convincing mix of ruthlessness and nobility although he’s sidelined for a fair proportion of the film as it focuses on Hunnam’s Raymond and the multitude of supporting characters. Hunnam is typically solid but doesn’t look as comfortable in the English crim environment as Jason Statham did in similar roles in the early Ritchie films. Hugh Grant gives one of his more extravagant and certainly his most foul-mouthed performances as the sneaky journo Fletcher. Colin Farrell makes one of the more memorable contributions here as a community-minded boxing and mma coach who’s wayward young athletes become mixed up in the criminal world. Henry Golding also makes for a reasonably menacing adversary who wants Mickie’s empire. Ritchie makes a tentative attempt to alter his typical movie gender balance by actually having a noticeable female character, in this case Mickey’s hard nut wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). She is typically good but more a cypher to make Mickey look heroic rather than a fully-formed person.
While this film is essentially a bit of a lark and can’t be taken too seriously, it still has some very problematic aspects. One of these is the fact that Fletcher’s homosexuality is made to look creepy and predatory. Also, the film’s use of racial epithets will raise eyebrows. Some of these may be rationalised as typical of the way crims speak but a couple of attempts to make these comical are cringeworthy.
Despite some concerning aspects and messy plotting, The Gentleman is still a mostly enjoyable slice of fast food cinema.
Nick’s rating: ***
Genre: Action/ gangster.
Director(s): Guy Ritchie.
Release date: 1st Jan 2020.
Running time: 113 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show