Guy Ritchie‘s filmography is a fairly unique one. All but one of his eleven feature films falls into one of two categories — he makes gangster “comedies” and IP studio pictures. (He also made Swept Away in 2002, but the less said about that remake the better.) The former consists of four movies of varying quality from the highs of Snatch (2000) to the lows of Revolver (2005), while the latter began with Sherlock Holmes (2009) and led to Ritchie’s first billion $ grosser with last year’s Aladdin. His latest is a return to those smaller films, and while the cast is among his strongest, The Gentlemen still lands around the middle of the pack.
Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) is right-hand man to the UK’s biggest weed dealer and most well-dressed gangster, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), but when he gets home late one night it’s a sleazebag “journalist” named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) who’s waiting for him. Fletcher has a story he’s ready to sell to the highest bidder involving Mickey, drugs, violence, and more, and as we watch that story unfold it serves as an introduction to all manner of creeps, crooks, and well-tailored bad guys. Death and double-crosses go hand in hand, but even as Fletcher’s tale ends there’s more of both on the horizon.
The Gentlemen sees Ritchie once more on his most familiar (and arguably most comfortable) ground, surrounded by tough guys, cool dudes, and silver-tongued thugs. A couple dames speak some words, most notably Michelle Dockery as Mickey’s wife Rosalind, but Ritchie’s world is a man’s world. He has some heavy hitters populating it, too, with the aforementioned Grant, Hunnam, and McConaughey joined by Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong, Henry Golding, and Eddie Marsan. Some play dicks, other play assholes, but only a few are cool enough to survive unscathed until the end credits.
That cool factor is what’s at play here as even the dirt bags look and sound like a million bucks. Ritchie’s script affords each of them some truly choice dialogue with insults, barbs, and threats rolling off tongues left, right, and center, but while the story favors Mickey and Raymond they’re both left as the blandest boys on the block. Both are undeniably smooth, but they’re also fairly dull. It takes skill making McConaughey this uninteresting, and it’s enough to wonder if the actor’s methodical Texas drawl is somehow sucking the life out of Ritchie’s words. Thankfully the rest help liven things up with personality and charm with two in particular standing out from the pack.
Grant’s conniving and greedy reporter feels tailor-made for the actor who’s been on a decades-long crusade against the British tabloids, and he’s clearly reveling in delivering a character you wouldn’t trust to watch your dead dog. As unlikable as Fletcher is, though, Grant’s portrayal is also immensely entertaining in his delivery, mannerisms, and expressions. His only equal here is Farrell playing a gym coach for wayward youths who finds himself drawn into the fray. He’s a fast-talker and more than capable of handling himself, and he’s immediately the most interesting character in the room (and in the film). His unexplored story is guaranteed to be more engaging than the one unfolding here. The film comes alive when either of these two are onscreen, and a sequence involving both is almost worth the price of admission alone. They’re golden.
As it stands, though, the film lacks urgency or momentum and instead just moves steadily ahead without real drive before simply concluding its bare bones story about how crime really only pays for white guys in suits. Action is kept to an absolute minimum, and while that’s fine in theory the film teases action beats more than a few times only to cut away immediately before they start or arrive only after they’ve concluded. The film doesn’t need to be an action movie, of course, but what we’re left with is a minimal story with great actors, a few laughs, and a fairly unsatisfying ending. Toss in some unpleasant and tonally ill-fitting beats involving Goldman’s character — the Asian jokes are lazy at best, and a vile act of threatened violence feels woefully out of place here — and you have a movie that doesn’t quite seem very sure of itself.
The film is incredibly easy on the eyes, though, and while that’s aided in part by this cast credit is equally deserved for cinematographer Alan Stewart and costume designer Michael Wilkinson. Every scene has an air of class about it in both the way its shot and the wardrobe giving each character their own sense of style and purpose. They’re clear in our minds even before they’ve opened their mouths to speak, and their outfits become an extension of the kind of men they are at heart. From the beautiful suits to the leather jackets to Farrell’s track suit, it’s probably the most memorable element and one most viewers will take home with them to their own disappointing closets.
The Gentlemen is perfectly passable entertainment with a stellar cast that’s more than enough to hold viewer interest throughout. It’s fun at times, loudly un-pc at others, and looks great from start to finish. Ritchie’s made far better gangster movies and at least one crime picture that’s notably worse, and if nothing else one hopes this leads to a spin-off featuring Grant and Farrell doing whatever the hell they please.