A film review by Craig J. Koban February 6, 2020


2020, R, 113 mins.


Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Pearson  /  Colin Farrell as Coach  /  Charlie Hunnam as Raymond  /  Michelle Dockery as Rosalind  /  Henry Golding as Dry Eye  /  Hugh Grant as Fletcher  /  Jeremy Strong as Cannabis Kingpin Mathew  /  Brittany Ashworth as Ruby  /  Jason Wong as Phuc  /  Jordan Long as Bobby  /  Chidi Ajufo as Bunny  /  Steve Barnett as Fishmonger  /  Eddie Marsan as Big Dave  /  Jordan Long as Barman  /  Max Bennett as Brown

Written and Directed by Guy Ritchie 





THE GENTLEMEN represents a decent return to genre form for writer/director Guy Ritchie, who has spent a majority of his recent years getting his feet wet in a variety of large scale Hollywood features of middling quality (see the mediocre and forgettable KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD and the even worse ALADDIN live action remake for the House of  Mouse).  Before dabbling in blockbuster waters, though, Ritchie carved out a cult niche for his high octane and hyper stylized gangster flicks, like LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, SNATCH, and ROCKNROLLA, all of which highlighted the UK filmmaker's unique marriage of ultra violence, colorfully coarse dialogue, and a rich menagerie of seedy, low-life characters.  You can sense almost immediately within the first few minutes of THE GENTLEMEN that Ritchie is definitely back in his comfort zone and element.  His latest crime caper may feel like a Ritchie film of old on pure autopilot, but there's no denying that this is one of his most playfully entertaining efforts in many years.   

To be fair, and as mentioned, THE GENTLEMEN doesn't really re-invent the wheel when it comes to Ritchie flicks, and in most respects it mostly feels like one of his previous efforts, albeit with a new modern skin.  All in all, that's perfectly fine for me.  I was at least appreciative of the labyrinthine scripting ambitiousness here, which utilizes an old narrative staple of having a book ended device, in its case a basic story within the story of two men sharing time together to dissect the other's complex blackmailing scheme and how that coalesces with just about everyone else throughout the film.  

The scheming blackmailer in question is a slimy tabloid reporter, Fletcher (an almost unrecognizable Hugh Grant, in one of his most refreshingly un-Hugh Grantian roles ever), who's demanding $20 million to halt the sale of one of his screenplays (how meta!) about the vast operations of a weed dealing empire, headed up by Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey).  Not only does this reporter know the secret locations of Pearson's underground growing facilities, but he has ample dirt of all of his seedy criminal dealings, which could put him away forever.  Fletcher's script is amusingly called BUSH, and he thinks it has huge potential to be bought by a major studio, but it could also spell legal doom for Pearson and his whole operation. 

Of course, marijuana legalization is on the horizon in the UK, making Pearson feel like he needs to make some necessary moves to stay relevant in the future.  His consiglieri in Raymond (a razor sharp Charlie Hunnam) is the one that has to listen to Fletcher's entire screenplay pitch, replete with rich details that could easily send him and his boss to the slammer for a long time.  As Fletcher pitches his script the film then segues into a series of flashbacks that further explores the particulars of Pearson's crime empire (while simultaneously allowing for Ritchie to engage in some cheeky commentary about the nature of modern cinema and big studio filmmaking).  We learn from this movie within a movie that Mickey wants out of the weed business to spend more time with his partner in crime and wife (Michelle Dockery).  He has a prospective buyer for his empire, another American (Jeremy Strong), but there's also another more hot headed purchaser in an Asian crook (Henry Golding), who's pissed when Pearson says no to his offer, leading to the former declaring war on his operation.  During all of this, Fletcher is sneaking around in the background, taking incriminating pictures and notes, all of which he'll use in his equally incriminating screenplay-to-be.   



One of the great pleasures of THE GENTLEMEN is the battle of verbal wits between Fletcher (who may or may not be a totally reliable narrator in this film) and Raymond, who grows increasingly frustrated and annoyed with this sniveling little conman threatening to cause serious upheaval to his way of life.  Fletcher is a terrifically realized heel here, who's shown as an ultimate parasite that displays zero respect for his subjects and targets.  Watching Fletcher enthusiastically relay his screenplay to the agitated Raymond is giddily enjoyable, mostly because Fletcher shows so much glee in re-enacting it in front of him.  But how much, of anything, that Fletcher reveals is actually real?  How much can this guy be trusted?  Can Raymond and his employer afford to trust him?  THE GENTLEMEN is a noteworthy Ritchie film in the sense that it drums up ample comedic mischief and tension from just the scenes of Raymond and Fletcher squaring off against one another, using words and body language as weapons.   

Grant is in supremely confident scenery chewing mode as this leach of a human being, and it offers up a rare chance for the actor to play an all-out sleazebag to maximum cringe factor.  He's deliciously droll and easy to hate, which makes him such a delightfully eccentric creation for beginning to end.  He's paired well with Hunnam, who essentially plays the straight man to Fletcher's script pitching theatrics.  He has the tricky task of playing an understatedly intimidating thug that's both a threat to Fletcher, but also knows that he's in-between a thorny rock and a hard place.  The rest of the superbly assembled ensemble cast are in excellent form, especially McConaughey, in a wink-wink career full circle role here (he played a pot smoker in DAZED AND CONFUSED decades ago to begin his career, now he's inhabiting a power player within the pot industry).  Dockery is sublime as her "Cockney Cleopatra" who runs the day-today operations for her hubby, but when faced with outside pressures and threats can throw down the potty mouthed insults and packs heat with the best of her criminal comrades.  My favorite character of this film's motley crew of rough and rugged hoodlums has to be Coach (Colin Farrell), a no-nonsense and constant track suit wearing boxing club owner that spends a large majority of his time in the film insisting that he's a legit businessman...only to then find himself partaking in a series of unlawful activities to pay off a mighty debt to Pearson.   

On a criticism side, THE GENTLEMEN doesn't feel like much of a stylistic stretch for Ritchie.  For as much fun as there is here in witnessing this stellar cast really bear down deep into his expletive laced (the C-bombs almost outmatched the F-bombs here), but idiosyncratically infectious dialogue, there are times when the overall screenplay built around all of that is sometimes confusingly structured and awkwardly paced.  There's many double crosses upon double crosses, not to mention twists and turns in the narrative, some of which work, whereas others that seem awfully telegraphed (one instance of bait-and-switch involving what appears to be the early murder of one key character later gets retconned in a fairly convenient manner that borders on cheap and manipulative).  THE GENTLEMAN is one of those propulsive Ritchie sucker punch flicks that's memorable because of its sustained levels of energy, but I often found myself marveling at individual moments here more than I did admiring the whole package.  Ritchie's adoration for this material and characters shine through, but his discipline is oftentimes AWOL.  

Still, this is arguably the most enjoyment I've had with a Ritchie film since perhaps his criminally underrated THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E..  THE GENTLEMEN is not without its obvious faults, most of which is its derivative nature (at least as far as Ritchie films go), but it's superlatively acted, stylishly shot, has more than its fair share of macabre humor, and offers up a charmingly intriguing group of rascally rogues that all try to one up and royally screw each other out of their respective livelihoods.  And coming after his journeyman participation in that excessively bloated and redundant ALADDIN remake and his unwieldy attempts at large scale fantasy in KING ARTHUR, THE GENTLEMEN is a most welcome homecoming piece for Ritchie.  He may be going back to the creative well here, but he does so with a swagger that makes this been-there, done-that bit of pulp fiction feel fresh again. 

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