American gangster cannabis kingpin Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) has been a part of the British underworld for decades and wants out. That’s not going to be easy, however, as he has to deal with not only an ambitious Chinese gangster (Henry Golding), but a sleazy tabloid editor (Eddie Marsan) and a group of track-suited and balaclava-wearing somehow-not-Russian hooligans that record their crimes to use in music videos. Meanwhile, his right hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) faces down skeezy and manipulative private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant).
I hadn’t seen much of Guy Ritchie’s early stuff, having only seen his two “Sherlock Holmes” movies and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Yet a colleague had told me before this was “definitely peak Ritchie,” and I had enough experience to grasp what he meant by the time the credits rolled.
I feel like I’ve seen the year’s most crass film, even though it’s only January.
Guy Ritchie does what young Guy Ritchie did best: tell an extremely bloke-y tale of violent thugs, cockney slang and manipulative editing. All presented with an astoundingly high usage of the word “C U Next Tuesday” and fancy outfits for even the lower-class characters.
The movie runs mostly smoothly, and the ensemble cast is on-point. Charlie Hunnam does a good job as the loyal and lethal butler, Ray. McConaughey’s performance is decent if unremarkable as the Deep South-expiate Mickey, and Michelle Dockery gets to do a nice spin on the mob wife archetype, even if she doesn’t get much in the way of screen time. Colin Farrell was also great to see whenever he stepped on screen as the beleaguered and overburdened “Coach.” Henry Golding was serviceable, though he sold his “arrogant upstart” type character.
Of the main cast, I will say that I was frustrated a little by a lack of character development for any characters to push them beyond their archetypes, but they were all serviceable and I certainly wasn’t bored for most of it, especially because of one Hugh Grant. With a solid Cockney accent and a smattering of sarcastic homo-eroticism that he sprinkles throughout his interactions with Ray, not only is he easily the most delightful character, he has these nice little tangents he goes on where Ritchie seems to step into him.
The writing is also extremely distinct, with a real sardonic and profane wit that runs through not only the dialogue, but the whole movie. The banter is consistently exchanging the vulgarity had me rolling for my seat. When the jokes land, they really land. When the violence occurs, it’s mostly pretty bloody and sudden, if not too shocking.
That being said, I do have a few issues, some small and others big.
First, the framing narrative of Fletcher blackmailing Ray, while extremely entertaining, ends up being something of a crutch to deal with how overcomplicated the film becomes with so many plot threads getting tangled. I really do wonder if it was written in later because Ritchie himself was realizing he overcooked his own stew and was compensating. There were also a few pacing issues and what seemed a disconnected side quest in Act II. I also would have liked to have seen more of Farrell and Dockery. Still, I should note that the exchange between Fletcher and Ray is easily one of the highlights of the movie.
Less nitpicky is when attempted sexual assault also takes place. While it’s one of the less violent examples I’ve seen, it happens to the only major woman in the film and without warning for viewers.
Finally, the movie’s handling of a racism is . . . confusing. I get that largely crass and brutish gangsters aren’t going to be the most accepting folk, but then there’s an unironic use of “Engrish” from a white character when describing an Asian guy and one part where Coach explains that adding someone’s race to the end of an insult isn’t racist because “it’s a term of endearment?” This also comes from a guy who earlier had berated a couple of louts for being rude. I’m not so sure if the disconnect was intended, but I wouldn’t be spending so many words on this if the movie didn’t blatantly draw so much attention to it. If it was being “anti-P.C.” for it’s own sake, I’ll admit I’m unimpressed since the rest of the movie gets along without it.
Also, the ending was a bit too self-indulgent and meta for my taste.
“The Gentlemen” is a Guy Ritchie movie. An extremely crass movie that knows exactly what it wants to be, for better or worse. If you’re a Guy Ritchie enthusiast, I can’t see any way you wouldn’t enjoy this, while I think non-fans can still get a kick out of the crassness and sheer style in the way the plot and characters are presented, despite many of it’s major flaws.
Final rating: 3.25/5
Featured Illustration: Kylie Phillips