Get ready to take a stroll back down the good old alley of classic cockney gangster crime drama because visionary director Guy Ritchie has returned to the old school here with The Gentlemen and it makes for one gnarly time at the cinema.
A British drug (McConaughey) lord tries to sell off his highly profitable marijuana empire to a dynasty of Oklahoma billionaires.
It’s been some time since virtuoso filmmaker Guy Ritchie has been in proper gangster territory, but now the good filmmaker has returned to the genre that he has helped shaped through the decades and he injects new blood, heavy drama and a whole heap of new villains back into The Gentlemen. And the result is a very fun watch. Telling the intersecting story of marijuana kingpin Mickey Pearson (McConaughey), an American expat who is the Julius Caesar of the marijuana business and has conquered all of Britain, with both sensational cunning and a brutal hand when needed. This very proper gangster is now trying to find a way to ride off into the sunset and it’s from here that things get very interesting.
This posh tale is in keeping with all of Ritchie’s favourite toys as a filmmaker and he gets to have a lot of fun as he once again traverses the entirety of the English establishment, from its polished aristocracy to the squalor of the slums, as he spins this original tale of gangsters, money and a whole heap of skunk. The Gentlemen is a film that screams to be seen on the big screen, in bold, crisp 35mm film, and with its colourful cast of characters and twisting narrative, you won’t see whats coming next. Ritchie’s style here is both his own, but there’s also a Hitchcockian touch here and it almost feels like this film is somewhat like Charade…but with more gangsters, pocket squares and c-bombs. You’re engaged from start to finish and Ritchie has you hook, line and sinker with a narrative that you won’t want to look away from until the very end.
Standing front and centre in The Gentlemen is Matthew McConaughey as the flat cap wearing, herringbone suited gang lord Michael ‘Mickey’ Pearson. An American expat and former Rhodes Scholar who turned his talents from academics to drug dealing and in the process formed a fearsome reputation for getting things done, along with accumulating great wealth, who now finds himself at a crossroads. But when things take a turn, and chaos erupts in this criminal jungle the lion lashes out and McConaughey goes to work. The pairing of Ritchie and McConaughey is an absolute dream come true and his resulting performance shows off his abilities. McConaughey makes for one hell of an impressive gangster and just like Al Pacino established the standard for gangster cool in the 1980s, so too does McConaughey refines it for a brand new decade in The Gentlemen.
Assisting McConaughey’s Pearson is Charlie Hunnam as Raymond, Pearson’s bespectacled number two man and all-around caretaker and consigliere. While his first appearance marks him out as a somewhat over-the-top accountant and logistics man, it soon becomes apparent that Raymond has far more violent talents that Pearson puts to good use and when you need someone to operate the bonesaw, Raymond’s the man for the job. Hunnam revels in the role, and he’s a great fit for this completely orderly individual who starts to crack at having to deal with the multiple of problems that are laid at his feet. You completely buy into his performance and he gets to show his stuff off, which results in some fearsomely violent actions, along with laugh out loud hysterics caused by some hilarious impromptu black comedy moments.
Coming up against McConaughey’s Pearson is Henry Golding who throws away his nice guy charm and instead adopts the hungry jackal feralness of upstart gangster Dry Eye who wants in on Pearson’s business and ain’t about to take no for an answer. Cast as the chief bad guy, Golding does a complete 360 here and it’s fun to watch him revel in his darker side. Dry Eye is a particularly nasty piece of work, and Golding gets to cut loose here as this thoroughly uninhibited ‘millennial firecracker’ whose got his own gangster flash style going on, and which is very reminiscent of the classic Steve McQueen look, as he looks to make his bones. Dry Eye is a worthy adversary for McConaughey in this gangster game of cat and mouse and he delivers the goods.
They say behind every great man there’s an even greater woman and for McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson that couldn’t be truer. Michelle Dockery takes on the role of his tough-as-nails and extremely classy wife Rosalind, and this Cockney Cleopatra, alongside her American Caesar, has conquered the British Isles totally and completely with both style and smarts. Dockery drops her gentrified stance that we’ve come to expect from her thanks to her work in Downton Abbey and instead adopts the all-business demeanour of Ros. She talks fast, walks fast and does not suffer fools and you invest in the shared chemistry that she and McConaughey have together as husband and wife on-screen. In a film that is filled to the brim with a whole pack of lads, Dockery is able to carve out her own space and her appearance is one of the most memorable parts of the entire film.
Popping up in The Gentlemen and completely turning heads is Colin Farrell as Coach. Like his name implies he’s a boxing/MMA coach who handles a group of trouble makers who call themselves The Toddlers, and who spend most of their time causing scraps and making fight videos that they upload to YouTube. But when his charges’ actions pull him into Pearson’s world he’s not impressed and his mean side quickly jumps out with terrifying results. Farrell’s turn in The Gentlemen is a performance that is unlike anything he’s ever done before and he’s quick on his feet and even quicker with the jab. It’s clear that he had a ball working with Ritchie and his appearance in The Gentleman is a bit of stand-out fun.
Finally, in a scene-stealing performance, Hugh Grant arrives on the scene as Fletcher, a sleazy private eye who’s always looking for an angle and who is far and away the most crooked character in all of London. This is Hugh Grant like you’ve never seen him before as he drops his usual classy persona and adopts this bottom feeder character and the result is a clear riot. Trust me when I say that you’ve never seen anything like this before in Grant’s career and Fletcher is equal parts scene-stealer and meta-character, and is the lens by whom Ritchie critiques and commentates on the current state of British society, and its changing of the guard. I can’t remember seeing a character this original since Dickin’s Fagin, and Grant’s turn as this cooky villain is sensationally fun to watch.
The Gentlemen is a terrific return to the old school for Guy Ritchie who once again proves that he’s the undoubted headmaster when it comes to the crime genre. Original, outlandish, wild and completely bonkers, this one is a crazy fun watch and you’ll walk out of it wanting to invest in a flat cap and pocket square while you brush up on your cockney rhyme.
Image: Roadshow Films