The Gentlemen is exactly the kind of “style over substance” storytelling I love. This convoluted gangster action comedy brings us back to the wonder and fun of Guy Richie’s earlier career entries like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and RockNRolla. This motion picture looks amazing and is a delight to have injected into my brain pleasure centers.
The surprisingly understated Mathew McCoughney plays Mickey Pearson, a U.S. transplant to Britain. He grew up in poverty, won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and used his brains to build a cannabis empire off the rich kids he met at university.
Mickey has reached that stage of life where he wants to settle down, spend some time with his beloved wife Rosiland (played deliciously by Michelle Dockery) and maybe have some kids. He approaches another big-time drug lord and asks for 400 million pounds (apparently the minimum Mickey feels he needs to retire in comfort) to hand over his empire. Chaos ensues … double-crosses, misdirection, blackmailing, snubs and maybe an accidental murder (manslaughter?) along the way. Suffice it to say, things do not go smoothly with Mickey’s big-money retirement plan.
This long, convoluted plot is delivered to us via a flashback tale told by scenery-chewing Hugh Grant to a typically blah Charlie Hunnam. This is not to say Hunnam isn’t good … his blahness is perfectly suited to his role as Ray, right hand gangster-man and chief fixer for Mickey. In fact, this may be Hunnam at his best. Calm, cool and ready for anything. Even to the point of dealing with aforementioned accidental death by casually carting the body off and literally storing it in his freezer.
This film’s truth lies in the verbal wit, and characters brought beautifully and cartoonishly to life. The stellar cast also includes Henry Golding, Eddie Marsan and the quirkiest Colin Farrell you have seen on the big screen. My first memories of him were in Daredevil, SWAT and Alexander, and I honestly never thought he was that good. That has all changed for me in recent years with films like The Lobster and Widows. Farrell delivers a strange combination of concerned coach (the characters actual name is Coach,) tough guy gangster, and understanding humility in regard to his place in the food chain within the world of the film. And he is so damn funny!
I would be remiss not to mention just how funny this entire film plays out. It is all very absurd, pitching it’s dark humor to us as a series of unrelenting fastballs, forcing us to pay attention to every detail, and daring us not to laugh. Be warned … Ritchie does take the opportunity to offend pretty much everyone for the sake of a joke, or at an effort in presenting cultural delineations of British organized crime.
Fabulous design shows up in every scene … from art direction to blocking and set pieces. Ritchie has the best foot-chases and somehow he makes even a simple conversation a thrilling action cinematic experience. His longtime editor James Hertbert is a master at making Ritchie films so very Ritchie, and he does it again here.
I heard one friend describe The Gentlemen as Tarantino-Lite. I will have to disagree with that … there is a passing connection via the rapidity of the dialogue sometimes, but I think it ends there. Tarrantino always has something to say, and takes his time. Ritchie never slows down … not for a second. Tarrantino is very invested in his characters as people. Ritchie treats his characters as cartoons. That’s not a criticism of Ritchie because I LOVE his cartoon characters. Tarrantino’s plots unfold and reveal the world, and Ritchie plots are tightly constructed Rube Goldberg machines careening towards a very specific and always absurd end point.
Ritchie’s pro-weed/anti-heroin message is mostly lost in the proverbial weeds, and his eat-the-rich message is so light as to be almost undetectable. You are not going to this picture for the social messaging. When people say “I just want to go to the movies to be entertained,” this film is a pretty good bet. Ritchie packs so much plot in here that you definitely have to pay attention, but on the other side of that coin, you can check your self-analysis brain at the door because it doesn’t require a lot big brain thinking. If you want a great ride, this movie is a thrill.
I give The Gentlemen 8.5 silly gangsters out of 10 hysterically accidental murders.