Starring Matthew McCounaghey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell Directed by Guy Ritchie
Out of Four
Director Guy Ritchie clearly needed a break. His last film, the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin, was a pure corporate package, designed for mass audiences by the biggest of major studios, made more woke to fit modern sensibilities, and watered down to feature nothing of Ritchie’s distinctive personality or style. So now Ritchie has gone in completely the opposite direction, working with I Can’t Believe It’s a Studio (better known as STX) to make the Guy Ritchiest of Guy Ritchie films, and seemingly going out of his way to make it as un-woke as possible.
The Gentlemen is Ritchie working in his full-on British Tarantino M.O., telling the story of Michael Pierson (Matthew McConaughey), an American in England who has built an marijuana empire that he’s looking to sell so he can retire with his wife (Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery, who is going to get smacked by Maggie Smith’s character of appearing in something this vulgar and common.). Michael’s efforts are complicated by the machinations of a rogue’s gallery of rivals, friends, enemies, and in-betweens. Trying to explain the plot any more clearly than that might give away too much, and would definitely require me to have followed it a lot better than I did. And yet the ludicrously convoluted plot is part of the fun of this weird contradiction of a film. It could easily be described as an exercise in run away self-indulgence, yet the stellar cast could be used as a textbook example of eveyone in a ensemble shining without every succumbing to the temptation to ruin it by tryinh to steal scenes from each other. McConaughey seems to be channeling Al Pacino, which seems like an utterly absurd idea but results in his most entertaining and engaging post-McConassaince performance. Charlie Hunnam gives one of his most assured big-screen performances, and Colin Farrell is hilarious. And Hugh Grant continues his transformation into a wildy entertaining chameleonic character actor.
The Gentlemen is only for audiences who can laugh at a group of ultra macho hooligans doing terrible, violent things to each other. And here’s my big SPOILER/TRIGGER WARNING:
An attempted rape which occurs late in the film was jarring and upsetting to me. The scene, while expertly performed and constructed, is shockingly culturally tone deaf. There’s an extremely distasteful feeling of the worst degradation being saved for the film’s only major female character, and I actually found myself almost wishing Princess Jasmine would burst in from Ritchie’s last film and grind the story to a halt with a shoehorned in feminist musical number like she did before. It serves a definite purpose in the story by giving us an emotional context to decide the would be rapist is worse than all of the other vicious characters in the movie and can be labeled the bad guy. But I would have prefered if they had found a different way to do that.
Fast-paced, slick, wonderfully acted and frequently very funny, The Gentlemen is an instant cult classic that a certain crowd will be quoting all the time for years to come. If you can enjoy a rough, dark crime comedy with no socially redeeming value whatsoever, this is a good one.