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Before he climbed into the cockpit of franchise starters like Sherlock Holmes and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., or even Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin, director Guy Ritchie was known for a particular brand of film. The purveyor of chaotic cockney crime capers like Lock, Stock, and Two Smokin’ Barrels and Snatch, Ritchie gained notoriety for being able to spin a yarn with a good mix of blood, profanity, and sick needle drops.
This makes his return to that sort of filmmaking in The Gentlemen a curiosity at best, and a reason to panic at worst. After all, going back to the well is sometimes seen as a sign of a filmmaker concerned about losing their touch. That’s not the case with this latest film, however, as Ritchie’s reloaded his wit and has fired a blast of irreverent comedy and violence into theaters that reminds us why he became popular in the first place.
The first original film from Guy Ritchie in over 10 years, the story finds weed magnate Michael “Mickey” Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) looking to get out of the game with a tidy sum of cash and a simple life to fall back on. Of course, that proposition is easier said than done, as a timid buyer (Jeremy Strong) and a boisterous competitor (Henry Golding) gum up the works of what was supposed to be an easy sale.
As associates (Charlie Hunnam), enemies (Eddie Marsan), and other agents of chaos (Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant) go to work, The Gentlemen takes a winding, and sometimes surprising cruise to the finish line at breakneck speed.
Guy Ritchie’s back to his old tricks, but in a more restrained execution.
For the most part, The Gentlemen is a film that slides on a greased rail, much like many of Guy Ritchie’s other films. Serving as both writer and director of original material again, the filmmaker has a particular and singular clarity of vision.
Interestingly enough, while The Gentlemen does move pretty fast, as any good Ritchie film does, there’s a fair amount of restraint when it comes to the speed and execution of the plot. The movie takes its time weaving its story, especially in an exposition heavy first act, with the narrative device of Hugh Grant’s character, Fletcher, spinning this tale taking some getting used to.
Once the film finds its groove, it doesn’t take long for Guy Ritchie’s charm to sink in, as The Gentlemen finds its rhythm and proceeds to conduct its own symphony of action, comedy, and choice swearing.
Hugh Grant almost steals The Gentlemen from an expansive cast of winners.
The best part about a Guy Ritchie ensemble is the fact that while the entire bench may be stacked with players able to provide a tight game, there’s always one or two that sneak in front of the rest of the crew to steal some extra glory. And oh boy is Hugh Grant really digging in as The Gentlemen’s resident investigative journalist/blackmailer.
Not to put down the contributions of everyone else – from the taciturn, and occasionally chilling Matthew McConaughey, to the loose and confident shenanigans of Colin Farrell – but Grant plays his part with such relish you’d think this movie was sponsored by Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. The most beautiful part is that Hugh Grant does it in such a way that it doesn’t make the whole movie about him.
Fletcher’s role isn’t to steal the spotlight, but rather to bind the players of The Gentlemen together, which he totally does. It’s still easy to recognize Hugh Grant as the MVP of this stacked cast, while also enjoying Michelle Dockery pulling a "paperweight" on random thugs, and swearing in a Cockney accent, or watching Henry Golding try to thrill and kill his way to the top of the heap.
The Gentlemen**'s plot is mildly convoluted, but you’ll still be able to keep up.**
Alas, the only real problem with The Gentlemen is the fact that Guy Ritchie’s plot is, at times, a little too convoluted for its own good. It almost wouldn’t be a Ritchie caper if there wasn’t some note about the reality of what’s going on being a little hard to follow.
Even with the extra steps and red herrings included in this particular criminal chess game, The Gentlemen is still pretty easy to track. In fact, you might call out some of the twists and turns long before they wind up on screen. It doesn’t ruin the experience of the sum total of this particular narrative, but it’s still noticeable enough to pick out when going over everything at the end.
As a return to form, Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen isn’t a home run, but it loads the bases and has fun doing so in the process. It’s a confident homecoming that it feels even Ritchie himself knew he needed to make, and should he continue down the path of his traditional brand of mayhem, we could see a true home run in the very near future.