Review by LL Soares
Director Guy Ritchie has had a pretty exciting career so far. I remember seeing his feature film debut, LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) when it first came out, and being blown away by it. He followed that with another very British gangster film called SNATCH (2000), which kept the momentum going. He made a few more gangster films, including REVOLVER (2005) and ROCKNROLLA (2008) before Hollywood beckoned (in this time period, he also made the remake of the Lina Wertmuller film, SWEPT AWAY, 2002, starring his wife at the time, Madonna, which I still haven’t seen). In Hollywood, his career became a rollercoaster of sorts, first with the successful SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, which I quite liked (along with its sequel SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS, 2011) and then on to such films as THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015, a flop starring Armie Hammer, which I didn’t think was completely awful) to KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017, ANOTHER King Arthur movies? Haven’t we had enough of those?) and the live-action version of Disney’s ALADDIN (2019). By the time this last one came out, I was wondering if I’d ever want to see another Guy Ritchie film again.
So when he returned to his roots and made another British gangster film in the spirit of his first films, called THE GENTLEMEN (2020), it caught me quite by surprise. It’s all here, the convoluted, puzzle-like plotting, the way-out characters, the profane and often hilarious dialogue. This R-rated treat is pretty much the exact opposite of something like ALADDIN. And it’s got a pretty amazing cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam (from SONS OF ANARCHY, 2008 – 2014), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from DOWNTON ABBEY), Jeremy Strong (from the current HBO series SUCCESSION), Henry Golden (from CRAZY RICH ASIANS, 2018), and Eddie Marsan (from the shows JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, 2015, and RAY DONOVAN, 2013-2020).
For most of THE GENTLEMEN’s running time, it’s a story being told by Hugh Grant’s sleazy (and terrific) tabloid reporter, Fletcher, to Charlie Hunnam’s gangster, Ray. Fletcher was assigned by his editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) to dig deep in the dirt for an expose of Ray’s boss, Mickey Pearson (McConaughey), and he’s trying to show Ray how much dirt he got and offer Ray a chance to buy the story from him before it gets published. You know, your typical sleazy blackmail plot. But Fletcher is a great story teller, and his story was so many interesting players.
Mickey Pearson, to begin with, is a billionaire American living in England who has cornered the market on marijuana production, by partnering with a lot of Britain’s upper class. But he wants to retire and enjoy life, so he’s considering selling his empire to fellow American, Matthew (Jeremy Strong). But Asian kingpin Dry Eye (Henry Golden) gets wind of it and makes Pearson an offer of his own, which Pearson rejects. Dry Eye takes this personally and plans revenge. His plans also drag his boss, Lord George (Tom Wu) into the growing turmoil.
Meanwhile, Coach (Colin Farrell) finds out that the boys who hang out at his gym (and look up to him) have raided one of Pearson’s secret grow spots, and filmed it, and, when he realizes it was owned by Pearson, goes out of his way to apologize and smooth matters over, before Pearson finds out who it was and kills his “boys.”
There’s also a storyline about a rich girl who’s become a junkie, and Pearson sending his right-hand man Ray to go bring her back to her family, which results in a death that gets the notice of some Russian gangsters. And Dry Eye’s plans also involve Pearson’s wife, the hard-as-steel Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), who runs an all-women garage for rich people’s cars.
There are a lot of balls being juggled here, and Ritchie does a great job keeping them moving at all times. The script is smart and kinetic, the performances dead on (McConaughey is the eptiome of cool here, Grant seems to really enjoy being a blackmailing sleazebag, and Farrell is completely earnest as he tries to right some wrongs, but frankly everyone here is terrific). Ritchie wrote the screenplay (based on a “story by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies”) as well.
It’s also got a soundtrack by Christopher Benstead, along with classic songs by Cream, Roxy Music, Can, and The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment,” which takes us out to the end credits.
THE GENTLEMEN isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The foul language is non-stop and there’s gonna be some violence (of course), but I found it an instance of Guy Ritchie re-establishing his cred as the modern King of British Gangster Flicks. No one has taken his crown yet, and he’s still using it.
The crazy twists and turns of the plot, the sometimes over-the-top characters and their equally over-the-top dialogue, all add up to one hell of an entertaining movie. And if you’re a long-time fan of Ritchie’s early films, like I am, you’re going to be even more excited about this one.
It’s a terrific antidote to Hollywood Blockbuster fare like ALADDIN, that’s for sure.
I give THE GENTLEMEN ~ three and a half knives.
© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives THE GENTLEMEN ~ 3 ½ knives!