Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell
The title of Guy Ritchie’s latest, The Gentlemen, is a particularly tongue-in-cheek touch: There is nothing gentlemanly about the men or the things they do in this violent knee-slapper of a shaggy-dog story. It is, however, Ritchie’s return to the genre (after bland, effects-heavy studio fare like Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Aladdin) that got him attention—that breed of male-oriented crime caper where the actors don’t seem to be acting so much as sitting in a pub, toasting each other with pints of Guinness, and one-upping each other with tales taller than the last. Fans may rejoice; everyone else may shrug.
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The protagonist is Michael “Mickey” Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a Southerner with enough smarts to get a scholarship to Oxford but found his true calling peddling weed to his posh schoolmates. Mickey is now a self-made man, the kingpin of a marijuana enterprise sprawling across the United Kingdom that relies on climate-controlled container vans (because, really, how are you expected to grow plants of any quality in Britain’s freezing rain?) that are in turn parked on the estates of down-on-their-luck aristocracy. But Mickey has grown tired of the rat race; he longs to cash in his chips, sell to a pedigreed American billionaire (an effete Jeremy Strong, miles away from his deviously conflicted Kendall Roy in Succession), and join respectable society.
Much of the hullabaloo in The Gentlemen has to do with a gang of Chinese underworld figures (Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding is at the helm—have I mentioned that the casting package is insanely exciting?) muscling in on the prospective sale. Because of this hitch, the plot takes a lot of digressions, including the involvement of a troupe of plaid tracksuit-wearing martial artists/rappers/robbers led by a paternal Colin Farrell and a detour involving the retrieval of an aristocrat’s heroin-addled daughter (Eliot Sumner).
The film itself is told as a kind of screenplay pitch by a ratty investigative journalist named Fletcher (Hugh Grant, relishing the opportunity to stick it to the tabloid press) to Mickey’s trusted right-hand man (Charlie Hunnam), which no doubt gives Ritchie an excuse to indulge in his baroque turns of phrase. Apart from the fact that Mickey’s super-potent strain of grass is called White Widow Super Cheese, Fletcher describes Mickey’s wife Rosalind (token female cast member Michelle Dockery, in a role as paper-thin as you’d expect) as a “Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s country Caesar.” At another point, Fletcher observes that “In France, it’s illegal to call a pig Napoleon. But just try and stop me.” The Gentlemen feels like that, a nonsense jumble of words thrown together and one-liners zinged out apropos to nothing, keeping you busy trying to figure out who double-crossed whom.
For fans of Ritchie’s masculine brand of self-aware, Cockney Tarantino gangsterism, it could be a glorious return to form. For those of us who have followed the director as he went through his own life detours—getting married and divorcing one of the biggest pop divas on the planet, earning a blank check to do whatever he wants with his anonymously efficient studio tentpoles—it’s just a little disappointing to see that he has brought no maturity, no discernible new tricks, to this return to his roots. To paraphrase Rosalind, there may be f**kery afoot, but it doesn’t really matter.