Guy Ritchie used to make a certain kind of movie. Irreverent, violent, cartoonish ensembles set in the English underworld, his films ‘Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’ launched careers (Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones) and brought the seedier (and often unintelligible) side of London to a mainstream pop audience. Scuzz, but entertaining scuzz, Ritchie had a way with the camera, speeding up and slowing down the frame, with clever voiceover that many times toppled over into the absurd and verged into the offensive. His was an unapologetic, in-your-face style, refreshing, if not particularly highbrow, in a good way, for the most part.
Somewhere along the lines though, Ritchie seemed to meander, falling down the tantalizing rabbit hole of blockbuster IP. Any artist worth their salt wants to avoid stagnation or repetition, but Ritchie’s recent endeavors have had mixed results at best (the Robert Downey Jr. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films, ‘Aladdin’). Throw in a few bonafide bombs (‘Swept Away’, ‘King Arthur’), and it’s easy to question his overall career. With ‘The Gentlemen’, he goes back to the proverbial well, crafting an ensemble piece populated by rough and tumble ne’er do wells based in the London criminal underground.
In an interesting structural flair, the film has no real main character. It centers on Matthew McConaughey’s marijuana kingpin, Mickey Pearson, but he’s hardly the star (he basically does a riff of his Lincoln commercials wearing wool suits and flat caps). Rather, the narrative is built around an attempted blackmail by Hugh Grant’s Fletcher, a slimy investigator who rather than approach the boss, relays his sordid findings to his number two, Charlie Hunnam’s Ray, a man of refined taste who suffers no fools. In fact, most of the film is driven by Fletcher’s recounting of events to Ray in his living room over expensive scotch and around a posh outdoor table infused with a grill (a truly inspired design).
This approach to the storytelling is a mixed bag, allowing for a handful of inspired scenes interspersed with some that are rote and repetitive of his other films. Anytime Colin Ferrell’s amateur fighting trainer, Coach, is on screen, prepare for some very anti-PC hilarity to ensue. In fact, so many great actors play against type in often refreshing ways, from the aforementioned Grant and Hunnam, to recent rom-com star Henry Golding’s turn as an unhinged gangster rising in the ranks, ‘Succession’ featured player Jeremy Strong, and Michelle Dockery, absolutely torching the refined characterization of ‘Downton Abbey’ to play Mickey’s very capable, tough as nails wife. There’s also a bravura extended sequence with a reluctant Ray on an errand for his boss Mickey, pulling an heiress out of a junkie hole that’s tense, funny, and all around uproarious in the best Guy Ritchie ways. By the end of the film, the cringey moments are outweighed by the entertainment for any fans of the Ritchie oeuvre, who leave the theater on a moderate high, reclaiming a writer/director for doing what he does best . . .
Written & Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Running Time: 113 min.
* * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- B