It is weird for someone of my generation to see Guy Ritchie go back to what are essentially his roots. My generation would know him better as the man who tries to redefine Sherlock Holmes before the biggest TV series ever did it, do the underrated Man from UNCLE with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, then fail with King Arthur movie, and randomly do Aladdin last year. Basically he has come a long, long way from his start as a gritty, gangster comedy home. So seeing him going back to it reveals some interesting developments.
Those developments come in the film Gentlemen which sees Matthew McConaughey’s Michael Pherson, England’s weed kingpin, looking to retire from the game as the threat of legalization looms. This causes groups of local gangsters and toughs come out of the woodwork and look to buy in, only someone is trying to weaken his operation ahead of the sell by date.
The Gentlemen is a simple story told complexly. See the story is told as a conversation by an investigative reporter played by Hugh Grant to Ray, Michael’s right hand man, played by Charlie Hunnam. This gives the film an energetic and spontaneous feel as Hugh Grant will jump from one character to the next in order to illustrate their place in the narrative, and give everything a smooth style.
This more spontaneous approach really gives the characters and actors ways to shine. Colin Farrell as the head boxing coach to a bunch of delinquent youths shines as a reluctant gangster. The whole cast of side characters from each of the youths to Michael’s wife who owns an all female operated car garage, to the rival Chinese gang, and Ray’s team. They have a little spice to make them feel special and not just be bland meatheads.
The characters’ spice gives the movie it’s charm and comedy. It might be labeled as a comedy, but there are different types. Some comedies are about the goofs, gags, and bits. Other are just funny people that are put into situations where they just so happen to be able to use that skill. This is the latter. The characters all have their own brand of wit to diversify them. It could be their social mindedness, heartfelt honesty at doing a good job, smarmy demeanor, or cunning weaseling to set up great, quotable lines and small character details.
The film also looks great. Even as this is a gangster film it is a very dialogue driven piece and they know how to make each location, from Ray’s house, to the mechanic’s garage, to pubs, and gyms all feel lived in and colored well that having long conversations in them feels natural and pop, not dull and drab. The few bits of action are quick and kinetic. It might be a let down that there are not giant shootouts with witty banter, or big, prolonged fistfights, but what there is feel impactful.
The film does have some faults that mostly come from its setup. It suffers from being “clever” in places like the Dracula show that came out recently (and reviewed here, read it, it’s good). It will show the same scene and then reveal extra information we could not have known, or fabricate information. This makes sense in the narrative, but is still jarring. The films scattershot approach also means that deeper developments and relationships are lacking. I am not saying that we need to know how Michael met every single person, but getting more specific details about his relationship to his wife, or Raymond would have been nice.
The Gentlemen does not shy away from how British it is. There is lots of slang and terminology we just need to buy into. The one that would be the biggest hurdle in America would be it’s Bernie Sanders level liberal use of the “c” word. That is fine in England because that’s their culture. It’s not so true in America. I know and bought in quick, but not everyone will.
The Gentlemen feels like Guy Ritchie watched both Baccano and Durarara and said I want to do that, but for British gangsters. He succeeded in that. Everyone is distinct, have fun, interconnected stories, and has grown out of his need to always have big punches and settle for a few fights and good dialogue. That eclectic style comes with flaws, but they overall work in the end to be the best film so far this year (out of the four I saw that’s pretty easy).