Guy Ritchie returns to his roots with another comedic crime saga. Even if it may be the case of a struggling director trying to achieve success where he's found it before, it is still worth a watch.
Guy Ritchie is best known for the two quirky, brash, and undoubtedly English crime films he released at the beginning of his career as director - Snatch, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. SInce then, he has tried to recreate the magic of these films in different formats, but has never quite been able to do so. He turned to more commercial affairs, reimaginings, even a Disney remake - he found varying success. And now...finally, Ritchie has come full circle.
The Gentlemen is unapologetically Guy Ritchie. He isn’t trying to film someone else’s script, or adapt an existing story with his unique vision. He isn’t trying to tone it down, make something more mainstream. He isn’t trying to do anything risky as a way to get attention or ‘try something new’. There is violence, there are drugs, there are fallible criminal organizations. The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie going back to his beginnings. It is familiar ground. It’s a different season, so there is snow on the ground where previously it was lush grass, but it is still the same place we’ve been before.
So do we embrace the Ritchie’s return to form, or criticize his approach of doing something he’s already done before? The critic in me should criticize this creative choice, but, I find myself unable to do so. Instead, the movie lover in me overrules any objective I may have over the concept of Guy Ritchie returning to this realm. My reasoning is the fact that the film is so enjoyable to watch. It doesn’t have the benefit as being unexpected or new like his first two films, but everything else you enjoyed about those two films is present in this one. The fact that it is also a modern picture with modern production values, and an A-list cast, just further solidifies my stance.
This one unfolds like kind of a flashback. Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a private investigator who has been hired by a news outlet to dig up dirt on Mickey Pearson (McConaughey), a wealthy American who runs a successful and carefully-planned marijuana business across the UK. Pearson is trying to get out of the business, and inks a deal to sell his operation to another wealthy man (Jeremy Strong). But, everything isn’t as it seems, and Pearson is in danger. The plot unfolds as Fletcher explains the situation to Pearson’s right hand man, Ray (Hunnam), in an attempt to blackmail him, or else he’ll leak the truth to the press. Ray, in the meantime, is working to “take care” of the situation.
It's one of those movies where everything doesn’t go as planned. There are backstabbings, freak occurances, and mistakes. That’s what makes these types of films so fun to watch. You never know what is going to happen. Even though it may seem similar to Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, it is not the same story told in the same way. In fact, Ritchie finds a way to innovate his own approach. By essentially telling the story backwards from a singular perspective, the film controls what the audience sees and what they don’t. We are at the mercy of the storyteller’s perspective, rather than watching events unfold directly. What this allows for is things to be reexamined in a different light later on. Ritchie makes the audience’s allegiance fluid. Who we side with at the beginning of the film is not the same character we believe in at the end.
Ritchie’s best films make us fall in love with his characters, even if they are quite rough around the edges. That brilliance in his writing is not missing in The Gentlemen. Each character is delivered with talents and faults up front. They are all unique, selfish, and vibrant. They are cartoons brought to life and then thrown together on the grown-up playground and asked to ‘get along’. It’s difficult to pick a favorite - Ritchie does a great job of giving each character their own moment to shine. He makes good use of the ensemble cast. Whatever they do - it’s entertaining.
Hugh Grant is a standout as Fletcher, who does all his work off screen and then tells us about it. But he’s not exactly in control of his situation. He’s dangerously confident. He’s cocky, but also aloof. McConaughey plays his character as if it is the backstory for his Lincoln salesman. His character is suave, just as confident in himself as Fletcher, and relaxed. The script doesn’t allow him time to dawdle - he’s too busy putting people in their places. Hunnan’s Ray is the strong, silent type. Not easily confused, but in some cases defeated by cruel chance. Henry Golding plays a bad guy, a rival. Just as cocky and confident as the rest. It’s a welcome change for him. It’s their downfall, all of them.
Suffice to say, the film has no dull moments. There’s a fabulous balance of eccentric humor, quickfire storytelling, abrupt violence, and opportunities for sweet sweet revenge. Ritchie is never too grounded either. He’s not afraid to mix it up - put characters in outrageous outfits or play up the farce. It’s a version of reality where everyone thinks they’re cool, calm, and collected, but they are really just acting like fools. With his direction, Ritchie is just as loose. At times he almost breaks down the fourth wall. He caters to the audience the entire time, but never shows them how he pulls off his magic tricks. At the end we are able to put everything together, and see who actually had control of all of the chaos.
At its core, The Gentlemen is what we would expect from a Guy Ritchie movie. It is about powerful men, playing off of eachother for our entertainment. They’re called Gentlemen because that’s what they think of themselves. The audience gets to laugh at how these egos swell too much and cause the whole thing to unwind. It’s almost a satire. It’s well made, well directed, and well acted. It also isn’t anything new. Guy Ricthie has done this before. It is full of itself. The storytelling is actually pretty convoluted, even if it is very imaginative. It only has one actual female character. Most of the time I would call this a mixed bag, but Guy Ritchie just has this ability to entertain, and The Gentlemen is above all, entertaining.
What's Bad: Treads on familiar Guy Ritchie territory, storytelling method makes something more complicated than it needs to be, lack of female characters.