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The Gentlemen Movie Review

The Gentlemen Review

By Stuart Shave

London Brawling

I love a good London gangster movie: the accents, the action, the clever schemes. They are often interesting and engaging films with fun performances and complex stories. One of my favorites – “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” – is one of Guy Ritchie’s earlier films, immediately followed by the much more successful – but in my opinion not quite as good – “Snatch.” These two films are touchstones for the modern era London gangster movie. Ritchie’s new film, “The Gentlemen,” aspires to return to the glory days of these two films following his oversight of live action “Aladdin,” but alas, it’s a few rhymes short of a proper cockney insult.

In fact, “The Gentlemen” almost seems an encapsulation of Ritchie’s career since “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock…” It’s a bit winding and random, with solid moments (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Sherlock Holmes“) and misfires (“Swept Away,” “Aladdin” – I’m ride or die with the original animated version) in equal measure. “The Gentlemen” features several entertaining performances, so it’s not a total loss, but it’s also not destined for the pantheon with the likes of “Layer Cake,” “Legend,” or “Lock, Stock…”

Gentlemen.jpg

The titular gentlemen are anything but; they represent various elements of the criminal underground. Our anti-hero is Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey, “The Dark Tower“), an American ex-pat marijuana magnate who “came up the hard way” looking to sell off his empire and retire from the game. Naturally, this is more complicated than simply putting in your papers and collecting your pension, and it serves as the principal motivation for our story. However, the narrative of “The Gentlemen” unfolds out of time, with components of narrative pieced together in a nighttime meeting between Mickey’s number one guy Raymond (Charlie Hunnam, “Jungleland”) and seedy muckraking reporter Fletcher (Hugh Grant, A Very English Scandal). Mickey seeks to negotiate the sale of his empire to fellow American and billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong, HBO’s Succession) while underworlders Dry Eye (Henry Golding, “A Simple Favor“) and Lord George (Samuel West, The Crown) eye Mickey’s product, territory, and infrastructure with greedy intent. Colin Farrell (“Dumbo“) sneaks in as a local gym coach trying to wrangle the eager, but slightly dumb, youths at his gym caught up in the gangsters’ maneuvering.

The overall appeal of “The Gentlemen” is bolstered by a few truly entertaining performances. Grant, in particular, shines in his role as a slimy, unethical journalist tasked with digging up Mickey’s dirt, filling every double entendre with a dripping sleaze and delightful humor as he plays off of Hunnam’s tightly wound straight-man. Hunnam is at risk of being too well put together – to the point of boring – but a great sequence sorting out some heroin addicts in a South London council estate gives him an opportunity to have fun. Farrell’s Coach is similarly enjoyable (and always a treat speaking his native accent) but a bit more simply written, so it is fortunate that he is deployed with efficiency throughout the film, never wearing out his welcome. Eddie Marsan (“Hobbs & Shaw“) delivers a solid supporting performance as a tabloid newspaper editor, further proving that he is becoming an excellent “that guy” for off-putting characters.

Unfortunately, the writing runs out of gas quickly, as the main players Charlie and Matthew aren’t given such effective content, and their performances reflect that limit. McConaughey feels like he’s stepped off the set of his latest Lincoln commercial, speaking with that same whispering growl throughout. He has a few moments of menace, but a lot of his character beats feel too convenient by half, and unearned. Strong plays his character as a stereotypical effete that is trying to be sinister and just can’t sell it; it’s a far cry from his strong performance on Succession. Part of me suspects that this is due to their being Americans plopped into a LONDON gangster movie – their difference just never quite clicks. They’re just not as memorable or villainous as Bricktop from “Snatch” or Hatchet Harry from “Lock, Stock etc.” The proper villains are also very thinly written, and will likely be perceived as base racist stereotypes. They are only scary because the plot demands it; they don’t truly earn it.

“The Gentlemen” is also held back by a story that isn’t particularly strong or novel. One last big score and I’m out? Check. Criminal intrigue and betrayal? Check. Story told using creative non-linear narrative? Check. It’s not that those narrative devices are forbidden, it’s just that Ritchie doesn’t make them fresh here. There are also a few moments where Ritchie needed an editor to check some of his wackier (and lazier) story beats. None of this is out and out bad – it’s just underwhelming more than it should be given his resume.

However, from a directorial perspective, Ritchie’s still got the knack for presenting London as a haven for criminal and capitalist alike – with a dash of royal touch for good measure. The world is well-developed and filled in as “The Gentlemen” unfurls its story and introduces its characters at a reasonable pace – never did it feel like it was dragging. There are a few moments where Ritchie’s creative mind gets a little wrapped in on itself, but they calm down after the first fifteen minutes. And, this early distractedness does come back to deliver an amusing meta-knock at its production company Miramax as the denouement rolls.

All told, “The Gentlemen” will be perfectly appealing if you enjoy a good crime film – especially one set in Blighty. Just go into it with moderated expectations. You’ll have a few laughs, eat some popcorn, and remember that it’s January, and this film, while far from perfect, is way better than some of the dreck this month typically yields.


Big Picture Big Sound – Home Theater, HDTV, Movie Reviews

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