If this movie were any more British, you would need subtitles just to figure out what all of the characters were saying.
This crime black comedy was released in the UK on January 1st, 2020, after a surprise premiere in mid-December of 2019. It was later released to theaters in the rest of the world by STX Entertainment on January 24th. Made for the budget of $22 million, it has thus far grossed over $110.1 million at the worldwide box office. This ranks it among the young distributor’s biggest financial successes to date, in addition to some fairly positive responses from critics and audiences.
Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, the film marks a return to form for him after a string of so-so blockbusters. It was originally unveiled at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival under the title Toff Guys and then Bush, with Miramax essentially bankrolling it. There seemed to be have been so hot demand for it as distributor STX Entertainment reportedly acquired the rights from Miramax for $7 million. It was promised to be more tonally in line with the director’s earlier crime films such as Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
Matthew McConaughey stars as Mickey Pearson, an American ex-pat living in London. Over the course of several years, he has built a highly profitable and powerful marijuana empire that even includes Royals in the mix. Now looking to retire peacefully with his wife Rosalind, played by Michelle Dockery, he approaches an Oklahoma billionaire with a proposition to buy out his business for $400 million. When word of the potential deal reaches the streets, all sorts of criminals and characters come for the throne in a series of blackmail, murder, and double-crossing.
I’ve been on-and-off about Guy Ritchie’s movies for a while now. He definitely has a distinct style that separates him from other filmmakers, but it’s not always suited to films like the live-action Aladdin or King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The type of fast-paced, immensely quirky works really well when he finds a story that suits that rhythm, which is why I’m a big fan of Snatch and his adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.
When I heard that he would be making a smaller-scaled, mid-budget caper, I became excited about what he could do. It’s always interesting when filmmakers try to return to their basic roots, and I was curious if his vision of unapologetically British criminals would translate well into the 21st century. And while it’s far from perfect, The Gentlemen is still fun and shows that Ritchie’s still got a lot of creative juice left in him.
It’s very clear from the opening sequence that Guy Ritchie is much more comfortable here than in the confines of major blockbusters. Credit where it’s due, he manages to successfully make the film have a modern setting and feel to it without feeling like an old man disgruntled over the new generation. It’s interesting to see how widespread the drug business is in this world, with even the press and Royal family members involved in some form or another.
However, it needs to be said that The Gentlemen can also come off as offensive to some viewers, as the characters frequently say casually racist or anti-Semitic things. I suppose it’s a way to make this world feel more natural and lived-in, but it becomes a little distracting when someone makes a huge point of the character’s ethnicity and it’s not in a positive light. It hardly takes over the whole film and eventually dissipates, but it is still worth mentioning and definitely takes me out of the movie a little.
Matthew McConaughey has made a lot interesting acting choices in recent years with varying degrees of success, but this might be one of his better ones. As Mickey Pearson, he’s his usual rugged and charismatic self, always assured of his dominance in the game. He manages to be quite ruthless and efficient as a crime lord, but prefers to settle all of his disputes with as little bloodshed as possible, having a soft spot for his wife and soldiers under his command.
By his side for much of the film is Charlie Hunnam as Raymond Smith, Mickey’s highly resourceful right-hand man. He’s extremely straightforward when it comes down to business, always having an ally or unseen source waiting in the wings for him. Despite this, he’s insecure about getting his own hands dirty and trys to avoid hurting anyone severely for whatever their istakes may be.
Hugh Grant continues his hot streak from Paddington 2 with his role as Fletcher, an unethical reporter and private investigator. He starts the whole film by breaking down everything he’s gathered so far, however inaccurate it may seem, often going on long unrelated tangents. His deadpan delivery of several lines helps amplify the dark humor of the film and he even adds his own mannerisms that make his character seem even more slimy and amoral.
Ritchie also gets ample performances out of his extensive supporting cast. This includes Colin Farrell as the wise coach of a group of underserved MMA fighters, Henry Golding as an arrogant underboss for a larger crime syndicate, Michelle Dockery as Pearson’s business-savy wife, Jeremy Strong as the peculiar billionaire Pearson tries to sell his empire to, Eddie Marsan as a loud-mouthed tabloid editor, and Eliot Sumner as a young heiress affected by the drug world.
And just looking at the technical aspects, The Gentlemen sees Guy Ritchie’s highly energetic style come to life once again. The cinematography by Alan Stewart balances conventional techniques with unique camera movements. This include sudden dollys and zooms on characters whenever something unorthodox is happening or being explained. The frame creates enough space between subjects to maintain a certain level of tension, such as when an unseen assailant walks up behind someone.
This matches up with the editing job by James Herbert, who works to align with the director’s unique vision. Multiple scenes have constant cuts between shots to illustrate the frenetic speed of the drug business, such as Mickey explaining his operations to a customer. Other times, it uses freezes frames for comedic effect or creates on-screen texts to explain local lingo. It can be a little distracting from what’s happening with the characters, but it definitely grabs your attention.
The Gentlemen is a scrappy yet somewhat problematic return to form for the director. Guy Ritchie, despite making some questionable choices with the story and characters, shows he’s still got a lot of juice left in him after dabbling in Hollywood blockbuster for the last decade. He’s also able to get some pretty fun performances out a well-organized cast that looks hungry for great lines and moments.