“The Gentlemen”: Guy Ritchie in his niche


Photo from IMDb. Fair Use.

“The Gentlemen” is a return to form for director Guy Ritchie.

Guy Ritchie’s new film “The Gentlemen” has more riding on it than a Greyhound bus ride. In the year 2000, Ritchie broke onto the cinematic radar with “Snatch,” a dark crime comedy about a large cast of idiots trying to make it big through scheming and theft in the London underground. This was the same premise as his previous film, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” as well as the films that followed, “Revolver” and “RocknRolla,” most of which were box office successes. It seemed as though Ritchie had found his niche. However, the English auteur shifted direction in 2009 as he began producing a string of blockbuster films beginning with “Sherlock Holmes” and ending with Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake in 2019. While most of these outings were financially successful, critical reception was less than stellar. Can this one-time cinema-geek darling reclaim his niche and prove that he can still provide that unique blend of grit and comedy he was so well known for?

Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a crime lord thriving in Britain’s at-this-point illegal marijuana business, is now growing older and looking to retire. Pearson is surrounded by both American and Chinese crime syndicates looking to take his place as top dog.

Fans of Ritchie’s earlier works find their appetites suitably satisfied by his newest outing. The story is once again set in the London underground where everybody swears like a sailor and is trying to get a leg up on everyone else. Almost every character is a hapless idiot in over their head. The delightfully complicated plot is told through the framing device of one character telling it as a story to another character, allowing for playful editing and tension as we wonder what this story has to do with the people telling it. Essentially, it’s the film that Ritchie’s fans have been waiting for him to make since “RocknRolla” 12 years ago. It’s filled with a sense of energy, like Ritchie has been asleep for the past 11 years and suddenly woke up with a renewed sense of drive.

The cast stands out. McConaughey’s natural confidence and on-screen charisma makes him fun to watch and fits his character so perfectly you don’t even care that you can’t tell if he’s trying to go for an English accent or not. Michelle Dockery exudes confidence as Pearson’s wife, and Henry Golding is surprisingly convincing as the rival Chinese gang leader, compared to his well-known romantic lead role in “Crazy Rich Asians.” 

Fans of Ritchie also know that he consistently manages to pull really good, scene-stealing performances out of less-than-impressive actors. “Snatch” used Jason Statham, “Revolver” made use of Mark Strong, and in “The Gentlemen” it’s Charlie Hunnam as Raymond, Pearson’s second-in-command. He fits right in to Ritchie’s world of fast-talking gangsters and violent stupidity. 

Ritchie’s portrayals of London crime have always been stylized, but never glorified. There’s no attempt to make that world and its inhabitants seem cool, as Ritchie continuously reminds us that most criminals are vile, short-sighted morons who don’t know what they’re doing half the time. This changes slightly in “The Gentlemen.” The settings shift from Irish trailer parks to more slick, upper-class environments as the focus is less on amateur criminals and more on organized crime. The sense of dirtiness and honesty remains.

“The Gentlemen” is Guy Ritchie returning to his roots. It’s fun, violent, full of the director’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. It might not be in theaters for much longer, so see it as soon as possible.