Between Snatch and Lock Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels, you know what to expect from a Guy Ritchie film and quite honestly, his latest, The Gentlemen, is a return to the fast-paced rhythmic storytelling that has made many fans of his work. With an ensemble cast of heavy hitters, Ritchie weaves a narrative through nonlinear storytelling to pull the audience in and keep them guessing as the plot unfolds in front of them as both writer and director.
The premise? Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American expat who became rich by building a marijuana empire in London. In the terms of the film, Mickey learned how to sell London to Londoners and having come from nothing, he knew how to stay on top. But, after decades in the business this top dog is looking to get out by selling his empire and closing the door to what has been his life. As he courts a potential buyer, word gets out that he’s looking to cash out of the business and it triggers a domino effect that ripples across different plots and schemes as the other crime lords in the game try to steal his fortune for a penny.
The first thing that needs to be said about The Gentlemen is that it is a true ensemble film. Over the nearly two-hour runtime, each character and the actors portraying them come to life in a dynamic way. Beginning with their unique costuming, cadence, and humor until ending with their moral choices, we get a chance to understand them all, even when they’re on screen for a limited amount of time. With a stacked cast featuring, McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, and Hugh Grant it’s amazing that no one was wasted. Each and every actor is used to the fullest, whether it was Hunnam as the neurotic right-hand man, Dockery’s ability to command a room the moment she walks in, or McConaughey’s ability to transform from Beach Bum to extremely intimidating Drug Lord giving a monologue about a pound of flesh, it all works. Specifically, it works because there isn’t a single member of the cast who is a good person, and yet, each one of them pulls you into their world.
With all of that said, the standouts of the film, however, are Farrell, Golding, and Grant, for very different reasons. While I went into The Gentlemen expecting to see massive amounts of McConaughey’s charm and bravado, I walked out feeling that these three actors stole the film. Now, this in no way means that McConaughey’s Mickey wasn’t great, he was. But in Hunnam’s Ray, Grant’s Fletcher, and Golding’s Dry Eye, we got to see the story complicate itself and see these men play roles that broke how I thought about them.
Farrell makes the most out of his limited part, taking control of the screen in his plaid jumpsuit. As Coach, Farrell balances being a mentor and unwitting criminal accomplice. He’s quick-talking, insulting, and yet, you can see the devotion of his students to him and his care reflected back. Farrell is easily the funniest person on the screen and in the entire film. But most importantly, the energy he brings is infectious and while every actor is having a blast, Farrell just really shines.
Golding’s performance as Dry Eye is a standout, not only because its great but because this character allows us to see a different side to him as an actor. I’ve been in love with Golding since I saw him in Crazy Rich Asians as a heartthrob, then in A Simple Favor he played a hapless husband being set-up by his psychotic wife, and finally, in Last Christmas, where he was back in the straight heartthrob role, and it’s hard to not love the man. In The Gentlemen, he makes you hate him, which is an extraordinarily hard task given how much he’s you made fall in love in each of his roles. Dry Eye is a younger member of Lord George’s drug empire, a triad organization, and he’s desperate to pull power from whomever he can. Playing only his side, Dry Eye has no moral code. He attacks first, honors no deals, and keeps pushing, throwing as many wrenches as he can into Mickey’s plan to sell his organization. From the violence that Dry Eye coordinates to what he does himself, puts Golding in a space we haven’t seen before.
Then, we get to Grant. His character Fletcher is a tabloid journalist and the crux of the film’s entire storytelling. Serving as narrator, scriptwriter, and blackmailer, Fletcher moves us through the story as he lays it all out on the table for Ray. But the catch to this character is that he is entirely vile character. Earlier this week, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema held special screenings The Gentlemen which were accompanied by a live Q&A (streamed to locations outside Brooklyn) where members of the cast got the chance to speak on their roles. To this, Grant explained how much he loved getting to play a vile character. And truly, that’s who Fletcher is. While the film uses stereotyping and some racist one-liners, it’s almost entirely contained to Grant’s character. Some of the worst moments, Ray cuts in to interrupt his story and correct his representation of the characters. We, the audience, know immediately not to trust him, know he isn’t looking out for a single person, and ultimately hate him almost directly from the time he begins to retell the story to his last scene. He’s awful, and Grant plays awful extraordinarily well.
As Ritchie’s return to gangster films, The Gentlemen does walk a fine line. In some moments the dialogue is superb, as characters jab at each other, deliver monologues, and highlight that the actors behind the words are having an absolute blast, and in other moments the humor is too reliant on comedy that has long since fallen out favor. That being said, I’m an American reviewing a film that is entirely made for a British audience despite having the story revolving around an expat drug lord. With that said, I’m sure there are things I missed, jokes I didn’t understand, and moments that would have resonated with me more if I understood London.
Ritchie explained that almost every scene was done with the actors’ input, specifically he noted the importance of keeping the creative process open in the scenes, throwing out pages of dialogue and instead, moving to what feels right. Something both Golding and Grant explained during the special Alamo Drafthouse screening. And this collaborative process is what makes the characters in The Gentlemen feel so animated and charismatic. Each actor makes the characters their own and drive the film. It’s not the plot or the action that makes this film shine, it’s each cast member.
This is a genre film, through and through, one that morphs from gangster film to action to whodunnit through the course of its runtime. Balancing each of these elements is narratively done well, so much so that connections can be seen throughout the film, once you realize that you need to pay closer attention then just taking in the men in amazing suits. Truthfully, because of the amount of detail that is loaded into each frame and the way Ritchie unwinds threads of the stories to uncover the answer to the mystery, The Gentlemen is a must-see in a theater kind of film.
That being said, some of the flaws in the film are also showcased in such a large format. While the film shines because of its characters and their dialogue, its pacing is a little unruly, jumping from speed to speed quickly, just as you settle into a pace, Ritchie either speeds you up or slows you down. Additionally, there are some small moments in the film’s editing where cuts happen too frequently or close-ups serve to startle my eyes instead of adding to the story. But overall, The Gentlemen has all the faults of Ritchie’s other gangster flicks while also having more of the strengths.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Ritchie’s work, specifically if you’re a fan of Snatch, or Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels you’re going to love The Gentlemen. Additionally, if the cast is what you’re here for, you’ll love each character. There isn’t anything revolutionary about the film, but it is a fun watch and a must-watch for anyone who is already a Ritchie fan.
The Gentlemen hits theaters in the United States on January 24, 2020.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Ritchie’s work, specifically if you’re a fan ofÂ Snatch, orÂ Lock,Â Stock, And Two Smoking BarrelsÂ you’re going to loveÂ The Gentlemen. Additionally, if the cast is what you’re here for, you’ll love each character. There isn’t anything revolutionary about the film, but it is a fun watch and a must-watch for anyone who is already a Ritchie fan.