Shut up and sit down, you big bald f** and get comfortable for just under two hours of crime by way of The Gentlemen. For his latest, Guy Ritchie has in almost no way evolved from the creator who made his last British gangster epic in 2008, but why would you want him to?
Ritchie’s crime films are almost a genre of their own, and after his detours through Disney, it’s exciting to have him back making our faves try to sell regional London accents. But not all is well in this newest inductee to the “funny lines made funnier by Americans in England” hall of fame.
The Gentlemen starts off exactly right, some narration by one of the major players, weaving a yarn to another. Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a gossip columnist, is attempting to extort Ray (Charlie Hunnam) by slowly revealing the otherwise unknown details of Ray and his boss’s drug dealing disaster. The film switching from past to present, Fletcher lays out the events of a messy business sale that Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) has set off with the eccentric Matthew (Jeremy Strong). The “just a smidge under half a yard” deal is blown to pieces when Mickey’s stash is raided by some boxers who upload the entire ordeal online, setting off a classic Ritchian disaster where a bunch of peculiar characters are grasping at an elusive prize.
In a fun new spin, the gossip columnists’ tale is told like a screenplay pitch, Fletcher selling both his information and the film rights to Ray. The armchair film student version of a narrative is fun, and simultaneously pokes fun at the screen experts we all fancy ourselves while being a meta exploration of film. There’s a moment where Mickey is exchanging words with Matthew about fashion, drowned out by Fletcher’s “O.S. V.O.” explaining the subtext of their dialogue. It’s one part a thoughtful meta film discussion and one part ‘internet film school for bros.’
I’d be curious to learn of a Londoner’s take on the culture in the film, but I was certainly enamoured by the use of the boxing gym and a right proper grime track laid atop the raid.
Now it’s possible my own viewing sensibilities have changed, but it’s also possible that Ritchie’s filmmaking ones have changed as well. Though I don’t think The Gentlemen is a new generation of Ritchie’s films, he does mange to pepper in words like “capitalism,” and “millennial,” and graze dangerously close to themes of the next generation grabbing at power that the old one refuses to relinquish. This is all held loosely together by a discussion of marijuana being worthy of legalization while other drugs should remain illicit. It also uses “social media” as a plot device on two occasions, so this really is the crime drama for the 2020’s.
Simply, the performances are great. The cast is top notch and everyone is on their A-game, and it gives more fodder for Sons of Anarchy fans to boast about what Hunnam can do when he’s directed well. I’m also incredibly partial to the costumes, and it’s a fun note to the *ahem* gentlemen to dress the fellas like they were clothed by the Kingsman.
I want this to stick like longstanding faves Snatch and Lock Stock, but The Gentlemen is criminally less memorable. It feels like The Irishman; a director with a specific style returning to what made them, giving us something bigger and better than their last, while just not being able to make another Goodfellas.
Left behind, however, by this inching of progression, is, of course, racism and misogyny. I’ll leave it to others to break down the racist jokes, but suffice it to say, the use of racist Chinese quips that feel written by a 1980’s locker room gaggle are a bummer. Another bummer? The rape scene.
Not one for powerful female leads, I was pretty pumped when Rosalind Pearson (Michelle Dockery) showed up in a Ritchie film. She slinks out of the driver’s seat of a car in obscenely high designer heels and stomps her way through an autobody shop to take care of business. She’s Mickey’s life partner and business partner, a slayer with some agency. In a beautiful climactic scene, she’s cornered by three tuffs, and Mickey frantically makes his way through the city to rescue her while she proves she doesn’t need it. She bests the tuffs with her quick wit and enviable marksmanship, but she only has two bullets for the three men. So the third one? Flips her onto her desk and kicks her legs open while struggling with his belt buckle. Major. Bummer. This, of course, serves as Mickey’s motivation, something the character didn’t need at all since said tuffs had already been shredding his business for the entire film. If I recall correctly, it’s the last time Rosalind speaks in the film, and she’s only seen as a kind of sad accessory for the remaining runtime. It sucks. It took an otherwise great female character and made sure to put her back in her place before film’s end.
Though not perfect, The Gentlemen is a worthy return to form for Guy Ritchie and scratches the untouched itch. If anything, it was worth making the movie just to get Matthew McCaughey to list weed strains.