I have not seen all of Guy Ritchie’s movies, but the ones I have seen I’ve enjoyed. I’ve always appreciated his directing style and aesthetic and I am completely unapologetic about the fact that I loved King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and I am convinced that Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films are the best adaptations of any we’ve witnessed over the past decade. I had no real interest in seeing Aladdin, so I can’t really comment on that particular movie, but when I saw the trailer for The Gentlemen, it looked like the Guy Ritchie of Old and I knew it was something I was going to have to catch in theaters.
To keep from diving too deeply into the intricate plot and potentially spoiling someone, I’ll do my best to keep this review simple and to the point. Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) has built an insanely profitable marijuana empire in the UK, but when word gets out that he’s ready to cash out and retire, the bloodhounds start sniffing around, eager to take over Mickey’s territory at a cheap price. This sets off a domino effect of betrayal, blackmail, and murder.
The movie is told from the point of view of Fletcher, an amoral private investigator played with sleazy gusto by Hugh Grant. He approaches Mickey’s loyal right-hand man, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), and demands twenty million British pounds in exchange for his silence over Mickey’s many bloody and illegal activities. Fletcher has designs on becoming a filmmaker, so the movie itself is relayed to the audience just as Fletcher is relaying it to Ray, essentially in the form of a screenplay. This means that Fletcher could be considered something of an unreliable narrator, but it also makes for a fun, exaggerated ride. Fletcher’s cheeky, flirtatious demeanor plays well off of the cool and collected Ray, who is clearly not in the mood but also realizes he needs to hear what Fletcher knows in order to protect his boss.
Mickey not only has to contend with Fletcher hiding in the bushes to chronicle his wrong-doings but he also has a power-hungry, drug kingpin wannabe named Dry Eye (Henry Golding) nipping annoyingly at his heels, desperate to take over Mickey’s territory while using various jungle analogies to explain his standing. If that’s not enough, there’s trouble with the son of a Russian gangster, and a group of young street kids nicknamed the Toddlers, who find and rob one of Mickey’s weed establishments while posting their exploits on the internet. This introduces Colin Farrell, who easily steals every scene as Coach, a track suit-wearing man who looks after the Toddlers, taking them off the streets and teaching them how to box and take care of themselves. When he discovers what the boys have done, he offers his temporary loyalty to Mickey to make amends for the boys’ actions. Coach has no desire to live the mobster life, and he simply wants to repay his debt to Mickey and then bow out.
McConaughey is extremely laid back and yet quite intimidating as Mickey. He’s a gentleman, of course, and fairly peaceful in his brutal directness, especially to his adversaries. It’s only when they backstab or offend him that the calm veneer fades and the hungry “lion” emerges to make them pay. In these moments it becomes quite easy to understand how Mickey stayed in power for so long. His only real weakness is his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), who is a badass in her own right. Her role is a small one, but she makes the most of it, bringing intelligence and toughness to Mickey’s wife and making it clear she’s the only one who holds sway over him.
The Gentlemen is extremely stylish and well-paced, full of unexpected (and sometimes expected) twists and turns. It’s also full of homoerotic innuendo, which I found to be a delight, although I could have done without the casual racism. I completely understand that these men are not good people, and sure, racism may simply be a part of who they are, but there’s a difference between showing racism as a negative personality trait and using racist humor to garner laughs. There is plenty of humor elsewhere in the movie, so it felt unnecessary and a bid for cheap laughs. That being said, The Gentlemen is still an entertaining, screwball crime comedy. If nothing else, Guy Ritchie fans will be pleased to see him back in his element, doing what he does best.