Up until this year, Guy Ritchie seemed to specialise in one particular type of film. The overly masculine, men fast-talking and punching their way through things type of film. Ritchie has a distinct style and voice in cinema, so I think I can speak for all of us when I say it was a huge surprise when they announced he was doing the live-action remake of Aladdin, which turned out to be less than great. His previous films King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were also watered-down. It seemed that Ritchie had lost his edge, his 15-minutes (or 20 years) of fame done, gone up in flames.
The Gentlemen is Ritchie’s return to what he does best. The film has an extensive and impressive ensemble cast, who are all letting themselves go all loosey-goosey for Ritchie and his fast-paced script. The film centres on Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) who runs the London weed scene, but rumours of him retiring have the vultures circling, all of them wanting the empire all for themselves and the considerable profits that come with it. Let the hustling begin.
The Gentlemen is a wildly entertaining film, full of hilariously and purposely bad dialogue, one-liners and wonderfully bonkers performances. Top honours go to Colin Farrell who has very little to do but does with such commitment and style, the others struggle to keep up with him. Most characters feel like caricatures, but Farrell manages to make Coach the only one who resembles a real human being. This isn’t necessarily a criticism to Ritchie’s writing, he’s experienced enough to know what he’s doing, but The Gentlemen at times feels like a collage of characters and vignettes that serve no greater purpose than quick, disposable laughs. As such, The Gentlemen is first-class entertainment.
Henry Golding, who has so far exclusively played nice guys, tries his best to bring menace to his turn as Dry Eye, but it’s hard to accept Golding as a real threat. The film is much better when it has fun with the characters and the dangerous situations Ritchie puts them in. A real winner here is, surprisingly, Charlie Hunnam, who is often wooden and can only manage one facial expression on screen. Here, Hunnam brings his A-game as Pearson’s right-hand man Raymond.
Raymond may be in a line of work that requires violence, but he is a gentle soul who loves a good, well-fitting three-piece. Hunnam talks in a soft, quiet voice, oozing charisma and sex appeal. If Tom Hardy sent the internet to a frenzy after wearing cardigans in Lawless, prepare for the new age of chunky knitwear on men after The Gentlemen. Matthew McConaughey is fine as Pearson, but he seems to be on autopilot here. There are traces of a better, wilder performance here, but at times Pearson seems to be a supporting character in a film about his drug empire. There’s nothing new or surprising in McConaughey’s performance, nothing to make it memorable, making it a huge disappointment from an actor who has conditioned us to expect the unexpected.
Michelle Dockery brings some much-needed girl power to the film and her chemistry with McConaughey is easy and believable. The Gentlemen is very much a film about men arguing, fighting and fooling each other and every time Dockery appears on the screen, she feels like a breath of fresh air, holding her own against all the big men and their big egos. It’s a shame she isn’t awarded much screen time or anything meaningful to do really. Jeremy Strong, of Succession -fame, is amusingly camp, yet menacing as one of the billionaires after Pearson’s business, but The Gentlemen is so overstuffed with great actors that only a few of them truly get to shine. The film could have used a bit more of Strong to bring some real threat, but at almost 2 hours, the film is a little over-stretched and stuffed to the brim with A-list stars.
The film’s biggest weakness is still the script and the very basic premise of the film. For the first two thirds, the frame story takes place in a mansion with Hugh Grant’s Fletcher, an obnoxious (yet hilarious) investigative journalist, who intends to blackmail Raymond and Pearson and much of this is Fletcher recounting what he has discovered to Raymond. It feels like a dated way of telling a story and while Grant absolutely nails his part and the accent, it constantly feels like we’re playing catch up and it’s hard to feel engaged in the events when they’re not happening to the characters in real-time and we have to keep cutting back to Fletcher and Raymond cooking steak at the mansion.
All of the dialogue is, in true Guy Ritchie manner, a little over-written. It’s so constructed and rehearsed, it takes all of the life out of the film. While this is customary to Ritchie and will without a doubt please his fans, a cast this huge and talented could have pulled off more relaxed dialogue and dare I say it, improvisation? Regardless, the story moves fast with plenty of twists and turns and it’s hard to resist The Gentlemen’s charm. Much of the fantastic acting makes up for the shortcomings of the script and The Gentlemen is still a tremendously enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment, which is best experienced with a huge crowd.
Dir: Guy Ritchie
Scr: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell
Prd: Ivan Atkinson, Bill Block, Guy Ritchie
DoP: Alan Stewart
Music: Christopher Benstead
Runtime: 113 min
The Gentlemen is scheduled to be released 1st of Janury in the UK.