Writer/director Guy Ritchie has produced quite the varied filmography over the past 10 years, including two Sherlock Holmes movies, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and the live-action Aladdin. What none of those films had was the energy or sheer nerve of his early work like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, something he brings back with a big-name cast in The Gentlemen.
While the title and high-fashion aesthetic of the film call to mind The Kingsman series, the film is actually an original and highly convoluted story with too many twists and turns to count. At the center is Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), whose dapper appearance belies his profession: proprietor of a thriving illegal marijuana company. Despite that success, Mickey is looking to sell the business, a desire that sets in motion a variety of other events.
The film is framed around a device in which Fletcher (Hugh Grant), an opportunist if ever there was one, narrates an attempt to blackmail Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam). Finding their way into the story are Matthew (Jeremy Strong), the prospective buyer; Dry Eye (Henry Golding), who also has an interest in buying the company; Coach (Colin Farrell), a local boxing gym owner/crime group leader; and Rosalind Pearson (Michelle Dockery), Mickey’s wife, who owns her own successful car detailing company.
Trying to follow the story is almost impossible the first time around. Everybody has their own agenda, complicated by the fact that it’s all seen through the prism of Fletcher’s storytelling. Despite this obstacle, the movie is a ton of fun, as Ritchie takes detours into unexpected areas. The movie may or may not make sense, but its entertainment value is off the charts.
The storytelling is aided by the talents of the actors, each of whom is more than willing to play in Ritchie’s sandbox. Everybody’s a criminal, but they’re all so good looking and charming that it’s hard to root against anyone. We Americans are often seduced by a great British accent, but even more so when someone like Grant, who has a naturally proper British accent, goes against type with a Cockney brogue. No matter what he says, he’s eminently watchable.
The film is a throwback to Ritchie’s early work, but not always in the best way. Characters throw around casual racism, a flaw that seems very out of place given the modern setting of the film. Of course, the characters are criminals and that type of talk could be lumped in with the relentless profanity of the film as a whole. But a choice could just as easily have been made to not include the racist remarks with no damage to the integrity of the script.
That mistake is even more disappointing given the attention Ritchie appears to have paid to other small details. Mickey’s two henchmen, played by actors you wouldn’t recognize, are as enjoyable as anyone in their limited time on screen. A group of young men who dub themselves “The Toddlers” are responsible for some of the best action sequences of the film, doing so with a flair that almost overshadows the A-list talent.
If you can get past the notable misstep, The Gentlemen is easily Ritchie’s best movie in years. Each of the actors, from the big stars to the bit players, is a joy to watch, and they bring the story to life even when the plot mechanics threaten to drive it into a ditch.