THE GENTLEMEN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Guy Ritchie

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Strong.

Matthew McConaughey and Charlie Hunnam in The Gentlemen (2020)

Brash British filmmaker Guy Ritchie cemented his reputation for flashy visuals and a kinetically energetic style with his three gangster tales – Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Rocknrolla.  Since then the journeyman filmmaker has diversified with his two Sherlock Holmes films, his misguided foray into Arthurian legend, the attempt to reboot 60s spy classic The Man From UNCLE, and more recently helming the live action version of the classic Disney animated tale of Aladdin. But now he has returned to his genre roots with another entertaining, fast paced foray into an underworld populated by vicious, double crossing crooks, smart dialogue, casual betrayals and violence.

Michael Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) is an expat American who has established his drug empire in London when studying at Oxford on a scholarship. He has built the business into a lucrative enterprise, assisted by his astute wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery, from Downton Abbey, etc), who operates a females-only garage. But now Pearson has decided to sell off his criminal empire and go legitimate. There is an offer from a couple of Americans, and he starts negotiating with Jewish American billionaire “Cannabis kingpin” Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong, from Succession, etc).

But other criminal gangs want a part of Pearson’s lucrative empire and begin to muscle in. Amongst them is Dry Eye (Henry Golding, from Crazy Rich Asians, etc), a ruthless and ambitious hood who represents a Chinese Triad. But their efforts to drive down the asking price set in motion a chain of increasingly violent and sometimes comical events.

The story largely unfolds through a series of extended flashback sequences as muckraking tabloid reporter Fletcher (a cast against type Hugh Grant, in a career best performance as he gleefully chews the scenery) sees an opportunity to make a quick profit for himself by manipulating events and attempting to blackmail Pearson. He has of course already turned the material into a screenplay which he hopes to sell.

The complex, byzantine plot and all its machinations unfold in non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time, with all of Ritchie’s usual visual flair and kinetic style. Some of the dialogue is decidedly off colour and unPC, but it is delivered by relish by the fine cast. However, some moments misfire, the movie-within-a-movie subplot doesn’t quite work, making this is something of a flawed film.

Ritchie has assembled an A-list cast to flesh out the various characters here, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Despite the title, these geezers are far from gentlemen. McConaughey brings a cool charm to his reading of Pearson. Charlie Hunnam is fine as Ray, Pearson’s dependable second in command, who has to contend with Fletcher’s inquiries, and he taps into the more dangerous side of his persona that we witnessed in the tv series Sons Of Anarchy.  Largely cast against type here as a ruthless gangster Golding taps into the darker side of his screen persona. Colin Farrell is also good as a fiery quick-tempered boxing coach who works with troubled youth from the wrong side of the tracks but who also has links to this violent underworld. Eddie Marsan rounds out the cast as Fletcher’s unscrupulous editor.

The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Alan Stewart (Aladdin, etc), whose strong visuals are a match for Ritchie’s audacious stylistic approach. The film itself is also largely self-indulgent and self-referential, with lots of little nods to Ritchie’s own filmography as well as numerous other clever filmic references. Ritchie’s script has been superbly cut together by his regular editor James Herbert, who effortlessly juxtaposes the fluid timelines into a (more or less) coherent whole. The soundtrack mixes some judicious pop classics with a stirring score from Christopher Benstead.

The Gentlemen may not be Ritchie’s best film, but it does mark something of a belated return to form and a return to the familiar territory of London’s underworld.

★★★

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