Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Mickey Pearson), Colin Farrell (Coach), Charlie Hunnam (Raymond), Michelle Dockery (Rosalind), Henry Golding (Dry Eye), Hugh Grant (Fletcher), Jeremy Strong (Cannabis Kingpin Mathew), Brittany Ashworth (Ruby), Jason Wong (Phuc), Jordan Long (Bobby), Chidi Ajufo (Bunny), Steve Barnett (Fishmonger), Eddie Marsan (Big Dave), Jordan Long (Barman), Max Bennett (Brown)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenplay: Guy Ritchie
Story: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies
Director of Photography: Alan Stewart
Editor: Paul Machliss
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Rating: R for violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content
Run Time: 113 minutes
The Gentlemen is the latest cockney gangster flick from director Guy Ritchie. In it, a tabloid writer named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) tries to blackmail drug lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and his right hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) over their marijuana business. Fletcher “pitches” to Raymond a tell-all movie script about Pearson’s dealings, such as how he ingratiated himself with the waning English aristocracy to grow kush on their estates. The self-proclaimed “lion” plans to sell his operation to Jewish-American billionaire Matthew (Jeremy Strong) before ganja goes legal in the UK, but Chinese criminal Dry Eye (Henry Golding) emerges as a rival buyer. The plot thickens when an Irish boxing coach (Colin Farrel) gets caught up in the mix after his trainees knock over Pearson’s grow house.
Fans of Ritchie’s brash style in early films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch will find a lot to like about The Gentlemen. The humor is dark, the characters are quirky, their wit is sharp. Ritchie seems to take aim at political correctness, with cracks about funny-sounding Chinese names to gags about man-on-pig porno and everything in between. At times, he tries a tad too hard to be provocative. While the characters’ cockney slang is foul, a scene where a rape almost occurs is even fouler. This all adds up to a film that’s rough around the edges, which may endear fans but turn off newcomers.
The cast elevates the humor in The Gentlemen above mere juvenile laughs. Ferrel and Grant are standouts. The pair steal nearly every scene they’re in, but Grant’s Fletcher is a particular joy to watch as he narrates the film and slips in his own colorful footnotes or makes Raymond uncomfortable with his flirting. Golding is cartoonishly vicious as Dry Eye, and Michelle Dockery is a knockout as Pearson’s shrewd but crude wife, Rosalind. You can tell the Crazy Rich Asians heartthrob and the cold-with-a-heart-of-gold Downtown Abby star are a having blast. Ritchie’s writing style is punchy and packed with britishisms, but the cast handle it to great effect. It can be easy to get lost in the dialogue’s density as a viewer, but it’s fun enough to just have it ring off the ear.
I’m a fan of frame narratives, so I like that the plot of The Gentlemen is framed by Fletcher’s movie pitch. Writing a script about a script leaves Ritchie room for self-awareness. Fletcher is unreliable; he wants to extort money out of Raymond and Pearson by spinning a yarn as close to what actually happened as possible. Raymond is Fletcher’s litmus test, chiming in now and then to fact check Fletcher and limit how tall of a tale he can tell. It mirrors Ritchie’s own role as storyteller, selling his story by choosing what works and what doesn’t. The metatextual device allows “Ritchie the scriptwriter” to disappear into his narrative so that the creative process itself drives the story forward and leaves the question of what happened or didn’t happen up in the air. This is a valuable asset to a story told around a complicated turf war wrinkled with twists.
The Gentlemen is a return to form for Ritchie, who’s had mixed results with detours like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Aladdin. The film hits all the beats the English director is known for. It’s stylish, heavy on testosterone, and propelled by an energetic soundtrack and charismatic characters. It’s also a very funny film if you can stand its more tone deaf elements. Here’s a test: check out a mashup of scenes from Snatch. Did you crack a smile at Alan Ford’s Brick Top threatening to cut some bloke’s “jacobs” off in one scene, then turning down sugar in the next because he’s “sweet enough?” If so, then The Gentlemen may be your cup of tea.