MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Crime-Action-Comedy/Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant, Jason Wong, Samuel West, Eliot Sumner, Chris Evangelou, Bugzy Malone, Tom Wu/ Runtime: 113 minutes
I feel it isn’t wrong to say that before he decided to make such franchise-esque films as his 2 Sherlock Holmes movies from 2009 and 2011, 2015’s adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., that atrocious King Arthur movie from 2017, or even Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin from 2019, Guy Ritchie was first and foremost regarded for a particular brand of film. This of course took the form of 2 movies known as Snatch and Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels respectively and led the way toward the creation for what is known as the cockney crime caper. These of course are movies set in the UK, had a cast of eclectic and intriguing yet shady underworld types all playing off each other amidst a healthy blend of blood, and profanity, with particular regard and heavy frequency toward a certain word that starts with the 3rd letter of the alphabet that I shall not utter herein.
Suffice it to say then that it was particular worrying when Ritchie announced that he would be making a return to those kinds of films in the form of a new movie that he came up with known as The Gentlemen and it really isn’t that hard to see why. I mean it isn’t exactly a secret in the world of movie making that when a filmmaker chooses to go back to a particular kind of movie that made them a name after being away for a long time, it can definitely be seen as an indicator that this filmmaker is vainly concerned that they might not “have what it takes” anymore. Thankfully, upon seeing the finished product, I can definitely say that this isn’t the case with this film however. Indeed this is a pretty good homecoming for a director who hasn’t lost his touch as Ritchie managed to simply reload his trademark wit and style and let into the world a wave of both pitch black humor and shockingly brutal mafia-esque violence into cinemas worldwide that in the process manages to showcase not only how gifted Ritchie is, but also just why exactly these movies are so enjoyed and treasured in the first place.
The plot is as follows: The Gentlemen tells the tale of an American ex-pat in London named Michael “Mickey” Pearson. A man who is highly regarded in the criminal underworld both for a past he’s trying to leave in the rear view mirror and for a marijuana dynasty that truly has no rivals, Mickey is finally however ready to hang up his spurs, and get out of this dangerous world with nothing more than a tidy sum for his efforts, and a simpler life to fall back on to enjoy for both himself and his devoted wife. That being said, this quickly proves to be easier said than done when this simple task in his life finds itself suddenly thrown for more than a fair share of wrenches following efforts by both a meek man interested in buying the business as well as a belligerent yet naive competitor to make things infinitely more complicated than what they were supposed to be in the first place. So it is that as Mickey’s most trusted associate, his most known enemies, and other assorted agents of chaos all go to work and engage in acts of violent mayhem both toward and against each other, we quickly see just how terrifying yet also darkly hilarious of a reality the phrase “business is war” truly can be when amongst the criminal element.
Now I feel that it is safe to say that, for most of this film’s 113 minute runtime, this finished product is a movie that moves pretty quickly along. Indeed I think it is fair to say that since Ritchie is both the writer and the director of something new and unique again that his interesting vision is on full display once again for our viewing pleasure once again. That being said it is particularly curious to note that while this movie does follow the distinct formula of any good film from this particular director & moves along at a decent enough clip this time he does something different. This something different manages to take the form of the fact that there is a surprising amount of holding back in regards to how fast the movie moves along as well as how everything in the film plays out the way that ultimately does. Indeed this is a film that actually chooses to take its slow, sweet time in putting all of the threads to this particular narrative in the places that they should with special regard going to this film’s seriously heavy in regards to exposition first act. Indeed I will admit that the plot framing device of having the character being portrayed by Hugh Grant being the one to tell us the majority of this tale does take a wee bit of time to really gel. Suffice it to say then that once it does however, and this film manages to find solid footing that we are once again treated to a delightful concert of the Guy Ritchie Orchestra complete with its own distinct yet oddly charming symphony of blood, dark humor, and swearing with particular love for a particular word.
With all of that said however, I have always felt that one of if not the best things about a Guy Ritchie outing is the stacked ensemble he brings to the table. Yet even more remarkable than that is the fact that while the whole line-up of players involved may be consistently good performers, I feel a few still always manage to showoff and steal the show away from nearly everyone else involved. The reason I bring that up is because I feel Hugh Grant of all people is one of those in this film. Yes that’s right we are talking about 90’s romantic comedy king turned early 2000’s cynical lethario turned 2010’s sometimes ruthless, sometimes despicable, but actually relaxed at long last Hugh Grant. Indeed make no mistake: this is a very despicable character through and through yet not only is Hugh Grant actually making this character come to life, but is this one heck of a performance he is putting on display. Indeed this isn’t to say that the what the rest of the cast from McConaughey to Farrell brings to the table isn’t quality work; boy is it ever. It’s just that Grant brings such a joy and delight to his part you’d swear he was on Cloud 9 the whole time he was acting in this movie. Yet what is perhaps the most astonishing thing about this performance is the fact that Grant plays this part in such a way that he makes sure that the film doesn’t revolve around him. This is primarily because when you stop and think about Grant’s arc in this movie he isn’t there to hog the limelight, but rather to bring all the various players in this caper together and he does so beautifully. Yet while you can easily classify Mr. Grant as the standout in this ensemble, I still feel that everyone involved is given a moment or 2 to shine along the way, and they are all still enjoyable in their own way in this movie.
With that being said, this movie does have one big issue that prevents this from being a truly great movie. Said problem is the plain and simple fact that this film manages to have a plot that is a wee bit too complicated at moments for the audience to keep up with. Indeed this is nothing new though because I feel this wouldn’t be a cinematic outing of Ritchie’s if there wasn’t times in the movie where what’s going wasn’t hard to keep track of at times. Yet then there are also the majority of moments despite all the false leads, and the double/triple-crosses that are afoot within this specific game where this film is wayyy too easy to figure out. Indeed if I could, I would even wager that you, the everyday audience member might actually be able to see some of the plot twists coming from over a mile away, and certainly telegraphed significantly in advance before you see them play out on screen. Indeed to be fair, I do feel that this particular quirk does not in any way derail this particular cinematic train, but I do feel nevertheless that it is a sizable-enough quirk that you will definitely be able to point out when you go over the movie in your head as the credits begin to roll and the lights turn back on in the theater.
All in all I feel I should let you know, but in regards to being a return trip down familiar haunts and memory lane as it were, this movie isn’t a complete and total home run. As it is however, this movie is still a hell of a lot of fun and the cast is all clearly enjoying the chance to be a part of a genuine Guy Ritchie film. Indeed it’s almost as if Guy Ritchie knew that after his commercial outings he needed to make a movie that he would be able to legitimately call his own again. It is therefore the opinion of this reviewer that should he decide to keep making original pieces of work like this, that we could very likely get a movie that is on the same caliber if not better than of those that made him a household name in the first place. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Gentlemen a solid 3.5 out of 5.