January 20, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Culture Representation: Set in London, this group of predominantly white male characters (with a few Asians and black people), who are from the middle and upper classes, live on the edges of the law and are primarily motivated by greed and revenge.
Culture Clash: The characters in the “The Gentleman” constantly try to one-up and outsmart each other in their betrayals.
Culture Audience: “The Gentlemen” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about groups of criminals who mix dirty deals with aspirations to belong in the upper echelons of society.
In case people might think British filmmaker Guy Ritchie was turning soft because he directed Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of “Aladdin,” he wants to remind everyone that he’s still capable of making the down’n’dirty British crime capers that made him a hot director, starting with his feature-film debut, 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (And then his ill-fated 10-year marriage to Madonna brought him another kind of fame: tabloid hell.)
With “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie returns to the theme that he seems to like best when he writes and directs a film—men behaving very badly. And who needs to have legal consequences? Ritchie makes it clear in his movies about drug dealers or gangsters that the harsh realities of police busts and courtroom appearances are pesky distractions that shouldn’t really get in the way of the story he really wants to tell, which is from the lawbreakers’ perspectives.
The movie’s title is quite cheeky, since the shady and sleazy characters in “The Gentlemen” act like anything but gentlemen. All of them are violent, and some of the Anglo characters spout racist and anti-Semitic remarks. There’s some content in this movie that’s truly twisted, including a bestiality scene that’s in the movie for laughs. The deviant act is not shown on screen, but what happened and who was involved are made very clear to viewers.
“The Gentlemen” has an all-star cast, but the movie really comes down to the sparring between two of the characters who want to be the alpha male who’ll outsmart them all. The two opponents are Michael “Mickey” Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant), who see themselves as brilliant manipulators who like to play people off each other like pawns in a chess game.
Mickey is an American who’s been a marijuana dealer in the United Kingdom, ever since he was a Rhodes Scholar student at Oxford University. He’s built up his business by renting out large estates worth millions and using the land to build underground areas for growing marijuana. His operation (which spans the entire nation) has grown to the point where he’s ready to sell it, now that marijuana might become legal in the United Kingdom.
Fletcher is a private investigator and aspiring screenwriter, who wants to tell Mickey’s story (and dirty secrets) in a movie screenplay that he’s writing. Fletcher describes the screenplay in vivid detail (which viewers see acted on screen) when he has a tense confrontation with Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (played by Charlie Hunnam). It’s a story-within-a-story conceit that works well in some areas of the movie, but gets too convoluted and messy in other areas. Fletcher tells Ray that the salacious details of the screenplay is Fletcher’s way of extorting £20 million from Mickey if he wants to keep Fletcher from spilling those secrets. Fletcher has found himself in Mickey’s orbit in the first place because Fletcher has been hired by a tabloid editor named Big Dave (payed by Eddie Marsan), who has a grudge against Mickey and wants Fletcher to dig up dirt on Mickey.
Viewers should know before seeing this movie that the hyper-absurd situations in the story basically serve to poke fun at the characters, who mostly think they’re smarter than everyone else in their world. And make no mistake: This is definitely a man’s world, since Michelle Dockery (who plays Mickey’s Cockney-accented loyal wife, Rosalind, nicknamed Roz) is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie—and her screen time in the film is less than 20 minutes. Fletcher describes Roz as the “Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s Cowboy Caesar.” It’s a fairly accurate description, since Roz’s scenes basically revolve around her sexuality, and Mickey’s scenes revolve around him asserting his power.
Mickey’s asking price for his marijuana operation is at least £400 million, and he finds a potential buyer in billionaire Matthew Berger (played by Jeremy Strong), another successful, upper-echelon drug dealer who’s been a longtime rival of Mickey’s. And there are some other sordid characters who are entangled in this spider web of a story. One of them is Dry Eye (played by Henry Golding), a gangster/wannabe mob boss who answers to his real mob boss, Lord George (played by Tom Wu). Their gang is also at odds with Mickey.
Then there’s deadpan henchman Coach (played by Colin Farrell), who’s somewhat of a mentor to a group of young thugs who like to videorecord their mischief-making and crimes while in disguise, take the footage, make them into rap videos, and post the videos on social media. The young hoodlums make the mistake of breaking into one of Mickey’s marijuana bunkers and stealing some of what’s stashed there, so Coach offers to make amends by doing favors for Mickey.
All of the stars of “The Gentlemen” do a very competent job with an often-verbose script, which requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the fight scenes—especially in an assault-weapon shootout aimed at a vehicle, where someone very unrealistically walks away unscathed. Grant’s Fletcher character has the best lines, and he’s the one who’s the least predictable. But many of the other characters (such as Ray, Dry Eye and Big Eddie) are very two-dimensional, and a few humorous one-liners don’t quite fill the voids in their personalities.
Put another way: Ritchie is no Martin Scorsese when it comes to gangster films. “The Gentlemen” tries to be a little too clever for its own good, but if you’re curious to see Ritchie’s take on a backstabbing criminal subculture, then “The Gentlemen” might be your stinging cup of tea.
STX will release “The Gentlemen” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020.