Magic carpet rides. Blue genies. Cheeky monkeys. The Princess and the Pauper. Cockneys. Geezers. Wheeler dealers. Jason Statham. All of the above have featured in the now eclectic directorial career of Guy Ritchie, who has gone from one-trick pony to blockbuster maker for Disney (and Warner Bros with his two Sherlock Holmes films) in the last decade or two with the odd flop – ahem, Swept Away, ahem – notwithstanding. Many wondered why he has side-stepped from his early work on Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but fear not, he has finally dipped his toe back into the murky London gangster underworld with his latest, with a Texan Oscar Winner brought in for good measure.
Said Texan is Matthew McConaughey who plays Mickey Pearson here, London’s biggest drug lord who is set to sell his vast empire to a fellow Westerner (Succession’s Jeremy Strong) for a tidy sum. Keen to scupper the deal is Dry Eye (Henry Golding), another local dealer who wants the empire for himself, even if it means taking out Pearson’s wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) and right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) in the process.
On the surface, this could well have turned into another disastrous misstep/flop got Ritchie: the success of Aladdin was more down to the USP rather than his filmmaking nous but someone had to take the risk and for whatever you made of the live-action remake last summer, it was a mega-hit and Ritchie deserves much credit for ushering it to the screen than he has been given. Indeed, his career before then had been healthy if unspectacular (Sherlock Holmes 2, The Man From U.N.C.L.E) and returning to his roots may have been seen as something of a white flag wave.
Add to that, McConaughey’s own “McConnaissance” has seemingly died a death with a string of flops to his name since his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club despite some interesting choices along the way that failed to hit. (For what it’s worth, he’s good fun here).
Suffice it to say, The Gentlemen isn’t that at all, rather it’s quite a hoot. There are missteps some of which unforgivable, notably the casual, nasty racist undertones pinned on Henry Golding‘s young, upcoming kingpin. That such things continue in 2019 is horrendously misguided and short-sighted and for that, the film should hold its head in shame.
However, when it isn’t doing it, the rest of the film – rightly or wrongly – is some of the funniest we have seen in the last year with Hugh Grant, fresh from his flamboyant brilliance in Paddington 2, stealing the whole film along with Colin Farrell’s wisecracker and Michelle Dockery‘s brilliant turn as Mickey’s wife. Indeed, utilising some unorthodox narrative choices – namely in its wrap-around story featuring Grant’s Fletcher – gives the film a fresher, bouncier pathway than those Ritchie has slipped down previously.
This won’t be for everyone and much has already been spoken about the aforementioned sour notes that the film decides it has to play, but murky stuff aside, The Gentlemen is a fun little romp through the streets of South London and thanks to its winning cast, is much funnier than it has any right to be.
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Action, Crime | UK, 2020 | 15 | 1st January 2020 (UK) | EFD Films | Dir.Guy Ritchie | Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan