Long before venturing into the world of big-studio blockbusters such as Sherlock Holmes and Aladdin, Guy Ritchie was known for clever, often crude action-comedies. His frantic filmmaking style, combined with supremely-English sensibilities made him an exciting voice in cinema. With films such as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie quickly established himself as an auteur of sorts—meshing gutter-mouthed humor with dry English wit. Love him or hate him, his early films capture unique energy, that had long been lost as he drifted into the realm of Warner Brothers and Disney. The last time I saw a Ritchie film in theaters was Sherlock Holmes, and while I found the movie entertaining-enough, I felt disappointed to see the filmmaker sacrificing his voice in the name of popcorn features.
Going into his latest film THE GENTLEMEN, my expectations were practically non-existent. I knew relatively nothing about the film beyond its impressive cast and general concept. I hadn’t seen any trailers or looked at any posters. I went to this film expecting a fairly run-of-the-mill affair, with maybe a couple of laughs and thrills here and there. I’m relieved to say I was pleasantly surprised at just about every level. To put it plainly, THE GENTLEMEN is without a doubt a return to form for Guy Ritchie, and in my opinion, his best original film to date. While it’s not without its flaws, the film manages to take full advantage of a stellar cast, and a massively complex script with seemingly endless twists and turns.
Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Pearson, a gangster and weed king living and dealing in the UK. For years he has dominated the marijuana business in terms of both growing and selling, and as he faces the twilight years of his life of crime he looks for a buyer to purchase his entire operation. The most-interested candidate is another wealthy American named Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), to whom Mickey lists an asking price of 400 million GBP for the entire enterprise. With this money, Mickey intends to settle down with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), and live a quiet, secure life away from the eye of the law. At first, all seems to be going well with the plan—Matthew is close to agreeing with Pearson’s offer until a young upstart gangster who goes by the name of Dry Eye (Henry Golding) enters the picture, and Mickey’s life becomes a world of trouble. Dry Eye is the head of a rival Chinese gang and seeks to take over Mickey’s enterprise for his own troupe. Having already pledged his loyalty to Matthew, Mickey denies Dry Eye’s offer and tells him to fuck off in the process, enraging Dry Eye. Following these events, one of Mickey’s growing facilities is raided by a gang of street youths, and he deduces that Dry Eye is behind the attack. He also realizes someone close to his camp revealed the location of the said facility and begins to question who he can trust.
All of this plot is told from the perspective of a private eye named Fletcher (Hugh Grant), recounting the findings of his investigation to Mickey’s right-hand man, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam). Fletcher had been hired by a tabloid tycoon named Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) after Mickey offended him at a social gathering. Charged with the task of digging up any and all dirt he can find on Mickey, Fletcher soon uncovers all of Mickey’s personal drama and business troubles, and seeks to use what he knows against Mickey’s crew by blackmailing them. Hugh Grant steals the show with his performance which is as hilarious as it is endearing—he recalls the events of the movie from the angle of a film buff reciting a movie script, to hysterical results. His scenes with Hunnam are the most addicting of the entire film, though that’s not to diminish the top-notch performances turned in by the entire ensemble.
If the plot sounds a bit muddled and confusing, that’s because it is. THE GENTLEMEN’s biggest detraction is its crowded cast and bloated script. The story is an ambitious one, filled with twists and turns galore, but ultimately feels like it’s trying to accomplish too much all at once. I haven’t even mentioned key characters in this review because there’s so damn many. This makes it hard to talk about all of them while still making some amount of cohesive sense. For example, I only have time to say one thing about Colin Farrell in this film: he’s fucking brilliant. The style without question overcomes the substance, and although the script is undoubtedly a mess, it’s an ambitious, commendable mess, presented with enough flair to have you laughing and grinning from start to finish. Ritchie sticks it to just about everyone in this film, in a time when comedy and offensive humor is under more scrutiny than ever.
THE GENTLEMEN makes no apologies and goes for the throat with crass, rude, and shocking humor. Bad language galore, and highly-stylized action-violence. It certainly won’t be for everyone in that some won’t find it funny, and won’t find it fun. I, however, loved the hell out of this movie when I was never expecting to. Love him or hate him, Guy Ritchie has injected a much-needed dose of originality and personality into the cinemas early on in 2020 with THE GENTLEMEN. This feels like a rare genre film untouched by the big studio finish, left alone to stand proudly as a story with a genuine voice and character. In a time when we’re quickly losing filmmakers who dare to be themselves, this is the kind of entertainment we drastically need. While I’m sure many will disagree with such an assessment, this comes from someone who previously had no particular allegiance or general liking for anything Ritchie has done up until this point. He certainly has won me over with this film, and I hope it’ll do the same for you. THE GENTLEMEN arrives in theaters January 24, 2020.