23rd Dec2019

‘The Gentlemen’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Strong | Written and Directed by Guy Ritchie

gentlemen-poster

Guy Ritchie returns to his Lock, Stock roots with The Gentlemen, a tale of gangsters and geezers headed up by an all-star cast. It’s a little less manic than his Snatch-era pictures, but it largely delivers the goods.

The plot begins with a flash-forward, in which marijuana baron Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) may or may not get shot in the head while he’s relaxing with a pint in a pub. Cut to Mickey’s mansion home, where his right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) receives a house-call from tabloid reporter Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who attempts to blackmail him for £20 million, armed with a dossier of Mickey and Raymond’s dodgy shenanigans.

The story then unfolds in flashback, with Fletcher as its not-entirely-reliable narrator. Having built a marijuana business worth £400 million, Mickey is looking to sell up and retire, in order to live a life of luxury with his beloved wife Rosalind (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, brilliantly cast against type). News of the sale attracts the attention of various buyers, including Jewish-American billionaire Matthew (Succession‘s Jeremy Strong) and Chinese gangster Dry-Eye (Last Christmas‘ Henry Golding), but their attempts to drive down the price set in motion a violent chain of events that reluctantly involves Irish boxing coach Coach (Colin Farrell).

Ritchie’s debut Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels came out twenty years ago, so it seems entirely appropriate that The Gentlemen, like its director, feels a little middle-aged. The cast of characters are a little older and a little bit wiser than Ritchie’s previous gangsters and geezers, while the manic energy of his speeded-up montages and fast cutting has been replaced by a more measured pace, even if there’s still plenty of cutting back and forth.

To that end, there’s an enjoyably low-key cat-and-mouse vibe to the structure, which unfolds a little bit like Sleuth (1972) or Deathtrap (1982), in that you’re never quite sure just how far ahead one is of the other at any given time.

As for the performances, they’re the main reason to see the film. Grant, in particular, is terrific, clearly relishing the chance to play a sleazy, venal tabloid journalist and delivering a deliciously rounded Cockney accent into the bargain. Farrell is equally good, nabbing several of the film’s biggest laughs with his deadpan one-liners and affecting an amusingly laid-back attitude (the way he deals with a quartet of youths in a chip shop is an early highlight), even when his fat’s in the fire. On top of that, Michelle Dockery is superb as Mickey’s no-nonsense Essex girl bride, displaying hitherto unsuspected comic timing and nailing the accent (someone cast her in EastEnders immediately).

Hunnam, for his part, is lot less wooden than usual, perhaps because he gets to use his native Newcastle accent for once (accents are decidedly not his strong suit), but also because the role is clearly tailored to his strengths. Elsewhere, McConaughey is fine, while Golding and Strong are both relatively underused, which will probably disappoint anyone who’s seen the latter as Kendall Roy in Succession.

In fairness, The Gentlemen isn’t entirely without flaws. For one thing, the film goes needlessly overboard on the casual racism, while a shout-out to Miramax should probably have been cut, even if it’s meant as a sort of sleazy punchline. In addition, attempts to establish and comment on a clash between generations (one of Mickey’s dope farms is raided by a team of younger, iPhone-wielding urban gangsters who beat up his goons and turn the subsequent YouTube video into a rap song) are so poorly fleshed out that the younger characters don’t even get names, let alone characterisation.

Needless to say, it all looks great, courtesy of Alan Stewart’s stylish cinematography and Michael Wilkinson’s excellent costume designs. There’s also a suitably breezy score from Christopher Benstead as well as some decent soundtrack choices.

Ultimately, The Gentlemen has its fair share of flaws, but it’s worth seeing for its colourful characters, its pacey direction and its pitch-perfect performances, as well as a handful of tasty one-liners along the lines of “You couldn’t lift a wheel of cheese, you c**t.”

*** 3/5

The Gentlemen is released in UK cinemas on January 1st 2020.

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