The Gentlemen Review: Guy Ritchie Returns To Flashy Form With Twisty, Foul-Mouthed Crime Caper
From the director of very family-friendly 'Aladdin' comes a not very family-friendly gangster comedy.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Man, I was getting seriously worried about Guy Ritchie.
His last two flicks, Aladdin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, totally missed out a very essential Guy Ritchie movie staple — guns.
With The Gentlemen, the British director is bang-on in flashy fine form again playing with the stuff and toys he loves most. Meaning, in this spitfire talky, twisty and tantalising plot about crass and class warfare, there swims a mad tableaux of vulgar criminals, idiotic punks, general weirdos, brash swagger and his brand of black homicidal comedy so Brit-style batty you'd think you were in a sleazy London pub with Quentin Tarantino putting on a Cockney accent. You know, just like in the old days with Ritchie, circa 20 years ago.
Okay, this isn't him from his evil mastermind heyday of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, his 1998 debut, and Snatch. He's over-compensating for his long hiatus from cinema criminality here with way too many eager subplots and shady characters. They're supposed to interlock but they sorta inter-block. But, dammit, a nearly rich Ritchie deal is still better than a poor man's garbage any time.
By the way, the man also loves those nutty fake-fantasy sequences going back and forth which cons you into thinking somebody has been shot to hell but actually is still very much alive. It's a cheap trick. Kinda like telling a joke and then changing the punchline. But such are supremo filmmakers sticking it to us unworthy viewers these days.
Plus, of course, there's a lot of casual racism in his juiced-up multi-cultural, multi-prejudiced underworld. If you're mightily offended by ang mohs making fun of Crazy Rich Asians heartthrob, Henry Golding, as a “Chinese or Pekingese or on your knees” gangster here, stop reading right now. The dude plays Dry Eye, a cocky, explosive usurper who's “like a Chinese James Bond, ricensed to kill”, with racist emphasis on the stereotypical Chinese propensity in pronouncing the letter “L” as “R”.
This time, to break the monopoly of too many Brits, Ritchie inserts an American twang into the coarse vernacular. Matthew McConaughey, the main man here, channels his inner Michael Corleone to play Mickey Pearson, a cool, ruthless Yank intruder who's sort of a wish fulfilment for Ritchie. I think he'd always wanted to add a Godfather knock-off to his Brit gangster films. “If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it's not enough to act like the king, you must be the king,” Mr USA muses in some kind of existential braggadocio.
I mean, just this loony premise alone, concocted by co-writer Ritchie, gets me excited. Pearson, a former Rhodes scholar in Oxford University, is a drug entrepreneur who somehow runs an empire of marijuana farms right below the rolling green fields of the snooty upper class of England. I'm thinking of complicated problems like ventilation systems, underground toilets, confusing mailing addresses, etc. But the guy stashes, with zero sweat, his cash cow beneath the real cows of the financially-strapped English countryside gentry who have “houses to keep, damp to keep out and silver to polish”.
Whereupon I ask myself whether being married to Madonna previously has turned Ritchie into a reformed capitalist-royalist. Or did he just talk to Harry and Meghan because this sounds exactly like the kind of aristocratic-free enterprise both liberated royals are now currently champions of?
Anyway, Pearson, wishing to move on from his bloodstained high life, wants “gentrification”. I had to look up the meaning of this word which drips off toff English tongues here so impressively. It means he wants out of the game and seeks to sell the whole dirty business to an American billionaire, Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), who's clearly Mr Dirtbag.
Thing is, when something this big and this money-spinning goes on the market, of course every dirtbag besides Mr Dirtbag wants it. Meanwhile, Pearson also has a very pissed-off newspaper editor, Big Dave (the terrific Eddie Marsan from Ray Donovan), whom he had offended grievously, dying to go paparazzi-ballistic to take the mickey out of Mickey's arrogant tail.
Now, there's no point in cataloguing everyone here because you'd kill me yourself for taking the fun out of this merry crime-fest. I'll just say this. In this meandering milieu of lofty and lowly malcontents are rich fools, Brit twits, Chinese mobsters, junkie kids, Russian hitmen, Israeli bodyguards, a bunch of MLE (Multicultural London English) MMA fighters who turn their raids on enemy territory into music-video viral sensations, and a big fat pig who's the butt of a very hilarious scene.
But the entire unholy mess really needs a navigator and oh, the cheek of Ritchie to install a narrator here, a Puck-like storyteller who's more adept in using another similar sounding four-letter word to embellish his tale. I tell you, it's very amusing seeing Hugh Grant play against type as seedy, poofy private investigator Fletcher who tries to blackmail Pearson's right-hand man, Raymond Smith (Charlie Hunnam), for money without actually losing his right hand.
Fletcher loves the sound of his own voice so much cooing “My darling” and “My love” to bearded enforcer Smith, he even tries to pass off his secrets-ridden story as a screenplay for a movie in an office adorned with a poster of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which is also, hey, a film directed by Ritchie.
At which point, you know that everybody is in this show for a joke and a right old laugh as they smash their own typecast images with unbridled glee. From Grant to Golding to Hunnam looking like a fussy accountant with a machine gun to Colin Farrell as an insanely funny fight coach-turned-accidental henchman to even Michelle Dockery so keen to blow her up goody Downton Abbey persona to smithereens as Pearson's tough-moll missus, they are The Gentlemen's true crude and rude thrills.
If you like Guy Ritchie's stuff, you'll take in all this with a headache pill and a chuckle. But if you don't, oh, just take the headache pill anyway before he tells you to bugger off, mate. (***1/2)
Photo: Golden Village