Welcome back to the jungle
A return to gangster-comedy for Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie is back in his wheelhouse—gangster comedy—and for his new film, The Gentlemen, the director/co-writer has assembled an excellent roster of American, English and Irish actors to play with him. Led by an intense Matthew McConaughey and an extremely amusing Hugh Grant, plus Colin Farrell, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery and Eddie Marsan—all in top form—it will probably end up being one of the best casts of 2020.
It isn’t an amazing piece of scriptwriting. The Gentlemen feels a lot like the style of Ritchie’s other films in this genre (see Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), in that it has zippy dialogue and a fairly routine mystery at its core. But it’s a lot of fun, from start to finish, and you will forgive the familiarities and foibles.
McConaughey is at his best as Mickey Pearson, an American pot gangster who has built a large illegal weed empire in England. He’s toying with getting out of the business, and offers his empire to another American, Matthew (Jeremy Strong), for a tidy, yet semi-reasonable sum. Mickey’s wife, Rosalind (Dockery), a shrewd businesswoman, is fine with him retiring, as long as it doesn’t mean he will hang around bothering her while she’s trying to get stuff done.
Bodies start piling up, Mickey’s hidden farms get compromised, and somebody in the cast is responsible for the chaos.
Grant plays private investigator Fletcher, who has been following the whole cast of characters around, gathering dirt. Fletcher—in what serves as a framing device—shares his observations with Mickey’s unflappable right-hand man Ray (Hunnam), and the action plays back along with his storytelling.
Grant goes full-on sleaze in this movie, and it becomes him. Bearded, bespectacled and in a full cockney accent, he’s a crack up. McConaughey isn’t a laugh riot here, rather he plays on his strengths—being chill and flicking the switch to full-on, brilliant rage mode.
Farrell plays Coach, a local boxing trainer for enterprising street thugs. Since his turn in the incredible In Bruges (2008), Farrell has been in my “favorite actors” file. In fact, Coach feels like an offshoot of his In Bruges persona—with, perhaps, a dash more bravado. It’s a smallish part, but he makes the most of every minute on screen.
Things play out in a way that is not too surprising, but the film is still an overall good time. Ritchie is definitely more at home with snappy, profane dialogue and comic violence than the blue genies and Medieval folklore of the recent dreck he’s put out (Aladdin, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). And The Gentlemen is a sandbox in which both cast and director get a chance to play and bring the audience along for a bit of fun.