Written and Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant, Tom Wu
If you miss Guy Ritchie the way he used to be, you’re going to enjoy The Gentlemen. It’s got the flashy, stylized presentation of the London underworld heavily featured in his earlier films. As spectacular as they are, no one ever really believes that they are seeing something real. At first for me near the end of the millenium, it felt like bunk. By now, I revel in the absurdity. The main difference between then and now is a lot of mileage and consequence. The older you get, the better that spectacle looks.
The story centers around the perspective of Raymond, an aide-de-camp for the major “Bush” dealer of England, an American Rhodes Scholar, Mickey Pearson. As played by Hunnam, Raymond seems deceptively out of his depth in both sophistication and menace. He’s a little too much of both to be either. Once we meet his boss, his act makes more sense. He fits right alongside of Mickey, who is not ruled by rage, but doesn’t rule it out either.
Mickey is looking to retire as king of the bush jungle. He presents his operation for sale to Matthew Berger (Strong) during the first act. Almost immediately, he’s given a smaller counter-offer by Dry Eye (Golding). Mickey turns down this offer, and he promptly finds one of his locations compromised. The mystery extends from here like a spider web. Everyone is caught up in it, even if they feel like they’re watching others get eaten.
All of this is presented in story form by Fletcher (Grant), who is a slimy private investigator who is trying to play anyone who will pay him more for the things he’s learned while working for tabloid paper producer, Big Dave (Marsan). We are getting a skewed version of the story, which occasionally moves into fantasy, as Fletcher is also trying to make a movie script out of it all. If we hang in, though, the real, slightly less fantastic version is brought to the fore.
Grant is particularly smarmy, taking off his shoes and stretching his feet on the fine carpet of his character. We know he can’t get the best of Raymond and Mickey, we just don’t know exactly how he’s going to lose. Hunnam keeps his cards close to the vest, allowing his face to show surprise when we see Fletcher invite himself to stay longer while Raymond barbecue some Wagyu beef from the freezer. We know when we see Raymond’s face looking in the freezer two slices of steak is not all he’s got in there.
These reveals are not the trick, though. Knowing anything about Guy Ritchie helps the viewer know that each trick is connected to a future sleight of hand. The other characters’ ignorance to their fate is part of the pleasure of watching them walk into rakes in the grass that have yet to spring up and smack them in the face under their own foot.
Golding revels in scenery chewing as the maniac underling of heroin dealer Lord George (Wu). He overacts every scene, but he’s enjoyable just the same. It’s a nice change up from his usual measured good guy. Once more the script describes him as James Bond. It must be a rider in his film contracts.
Dockery and McConaughey work excellently as what looks to be a very sophisticated and posh couple. It’s fun to see someone who looks like a royal so easily fit in this male-dominated underworld. If one thinks she’s not part of that dominance, that’s their mistake. And it’s a costly one, at that.
The film feels perfectly cast, and the story moves along brusquely enough that one doesn’t want to consider the fact that nothing that happens to surprise will actually be unexpected. Every action we see precipitated off camera has an equal and opposite counter down the line. Once we’re finished, we are joyous for having seen it all, but it’s like eating a bag of super puff Cheetos. Once it’s chewed, it takes a lot less space.
If one knows and enjoys Guy Ritchie, this movie will not disappoint. It may not break any new ground, but it still feels fresh.
(**** out of *****)