Movie Review -- 'The Gentlemen' is Director Guy Ritchie Doing What He Does Best

Last January, Matthew McConaughey graced us with Serenity, one of the most baffling, bizarre, and terrible movies I’ve ever seen. Last summer, Guy Ritchie also bowed in with a bad movie. He didn’t helm the live-action Aladdin, rather he beached it. Given that we’re well into the season of theatrical releases that prioritize action and style over more substantive films, I have to admit I didn’t have high hopes for The Gentlemen. To my surprise and delight, it was actually a great time.

McConaughey is Mickey Pearson, Yankee lord of a massive marijuana empire underneath the United Kingdom. In the middle of an eventful week for Pearson, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), his right-hand man, is greeted in his home by an unwelcome guest: private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant). Turns out, Pearson snubbed the hot-headed editor (Eddie Marsan) of a notorious tabloid at a party, and in revenge, he hired Fletcher to dig up dirt on him. Ever the creative visionary, Fletcher wrote his findings into a screenplay, which he proceeds to pitch to Ray. The tabloid offered him £150,000 for his story, but to keep it quiet, Fletcher offers to let Pearson buy it and kill it for £20 million.

The tale he tells chronicles Mickey Pearson’s attempt to exit his lucrative cannabis empire by selling to billionaire Matthew Berger, his run-ins with Chinese gangsters Dry Eye (Henry Golding) and Lord George (Tom Wu), as well as the role Colin Farrell’s Coach and his group of amateur boxers/wannabe gangsters play into the mix. The result? Fletcher has taken Pearson’s exit saga and spun it into a movie worth watching, clearly.

This movie pitch/blackmail framing device, despite starting out giving the vibe that the screenwriter (also Ritchie) really thought the idea of a movie about someone who wrote a movie is still considered clever, evolves into a slick way to tell the story. Fletcher’s reporting veers into unreliable narration and embellishments, that then get rolled back as Ray corrects his overactive imagination. And even though his screenplay eventually ends, he doesn’t yet know the end of the story, by which point The Gentlemen has the audience by the nose.

Guy Ritchie does well when he applies his style to works grounded in, if not reality, some form of it that looks enough like the real thing through a prism of wit and crime. It’s why Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch succeed and fare like Aladdin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword fall flat, with the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films falling somewhere in-between.

It's not all good news, however. As much fun as the flashy, stylized elements are, The Gentlemen's (admittedly sparse, but noticeable) attempts edgy racial humor largely fall flat. An exchange between Colin Farrell and one of his boxing protege's about whether it's racist that another amateur boxer called him a "black c***" feels particularly pointed as an attempt by Ritchie to have his cake and eat it too - "I'm edgy but here's my Rick and Morty level explanation of why it's okay to say this." There's a feeling too that Ritchie feels that since he's putting these words in the mouths of criminals and gangsters, there's room to hide behind a veil of "I don't endorse this, he's a bad guy." Maybe that's enough of an explanation for some. To me it feels misguided and irresponsible. Your mileage may vary.

Mickey Pearson takes advantage of Matthew McConaughey’s affable demeanor and turns it sinister, keeping a level and pleasant tone despite the threats his operation faces and the vengeance he unleashes in response. Colin Farrell’s Coach is a delight, to the point that I wouldn’t mind seeing a film that explored his character further. But it’s Hugh Grant who ultimately steals the show by munching on every piece of scenery in sight and loving every minute of it.

The Gentlemen comfortably sits as one of Richie’s best, threading a needle between sardonic exchanges and tense moments. It’s not as action-packed as Bad Boys For Life, nor is it as tense and anxious as Uncut Gems. It is, as it should be, a Guy Ritchie-brand crime comedy.

It’s going to be slow going for good movies until the weather heats up, so enjoy the January surprise of The Gentlemen in the meantime.


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