Guy Ritchie is back in the director’s chair for another wild and hilariously British gangster movie.
Ritchie’s last five feature films – including “Aladdin,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” – have all been based on multimillion-dollar source material and produced by major studios, but “The Gentlemen” is his journey back into the indie world where he started his career. Over a decade later, his return pays off with big laughs and shocking twists. Much like Ritchie’s early projects, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” “The Gentlemen” is a brash, crude crime film that is simultaneously mature and aggressively childish in the best way possible.
The film’s strength lies in its perfectly utilized ensemble cast and the lead actors’ impeccable ability to bring Ritchie’s witty and self-aware script to life. While Matthew McConaughey is solid as the film’s central character, it’s Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding and especially Hugh Grant who get the most gasps and laughs.
The story begins with Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) – England’s most prominent drug dealer – trying to escape the world of weed and retire to a castle with his wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). But when rival dealers and gangs catch wind of his intentions to sell off his empire off to a fellow American kingpin, Mickey and his right-hand man Ray (Hunnam) have to stand their ground and keep their company alive.
However, the main plot is nested inside a meta retelling of bits and pieces of the central storyline with varying levels of ridiculous exaggerations and embellishments, leading to some of the film’s funniest moments.
Comical dialogue is one thing, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that the editing and story structure was the source of so much humor. The smash cuts and visual storytelling based around fourth-wall-breaking film fandom made for surprising and layered humor throughout. The slimy and unfiltered Fletcher (Grant) becomes one of the film’s most instantly iconic characters by leading the charge on this front, breaking down the main plot as if it were a Hollywood blockbuster all throughout the first two acts.
Despite the success of “The Gentlemen” as a comedy, it relies on wordplay and line delivery for most of its laughs, lacking cut-and-dry jokes. That aspect certainly isn’t a negative for attentive audiences who are in tune with British humor, but the style can be alienating for people expecting a more straightforward, wide-appeal American comedy.
The characters are all memorable vehicles for that signature comedy and are certainly entertaining in their own efforts, with Grant’s weirdly homoerotic character stealing nearly every scene he’s in and Hunnam’s memorable monologues feeding into the film’s energy. The standout supporting characters, however, are Coach (Farrell) and his squad of rapping boxer thugs. The crew’s visually overwhelming music videos and satirical grime raps work in contrast to Coach’s abrasive, no-nonsense mentality, resulting in some of the movie’s most clever arguments.
The plot of “The Gentlemen” lends itself well to an action-comedy, but it falls slightly short on the former of those genres while leaning hard into the latter. Outside of one graphic fantasy fight scene and a shaky-cam three-on-one scuffle that ends with a surprisingly funny twist, the combat in the film is a bit light. What is there isn’t bad, but it lacks creativity and purpose behind the choreography.
Instead, Ritchie uses the standoff and shoot-out scenes to dive head-first into several gratuitous acts and regular graphic violence. Each battle’s exploitative imagery works well both in contrast to the film’s comedic elements and alongside the dark criminal underworld Ritchie creates. However, more effort seemingly went into the shock value of certain sequences rather than the choreography, which seemed underwhelming compared to the bombastic characters and comedy surrounding them.
But “The Gentlemen” is a comedy first and foremost, and it succeeds because of that. In this genre, Ritchie seems comfortable calling the shots, as he eases back into what helped him rise to fame in the first place – blending niche comedy with memorable performances and a tight script. The tangible chemistry between the all-star cast fuels the story from start to finish, and the nonlinear structure infuses it with the perfect amount of mystery and energy.
It may not be an Oscar-contender like another recent popular gangster movie, but “The Gentlemen” is still a wildly entertaining return to form for one of Hollywood’s greatest visionaries.