“The Gentlemen” marks Guy Ritchie’s return to the geezer gangster genre, and this time he boasts far more self-awareness and self-assurance. Ritchie knows the rules, knows who he is and owning his storytelling craft – leading to a collision of crassness, class satire and virtuosic application of the word ‘c-nt’ that I imagine is going to only grow in appreciation with each re-watch.
Matthew McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson is the weed dealing Lion of the London Underground, and he has decided that it’s time to retire. An international buyer in the wings (the confident and disarming Jeremy Strong), fierce competition (the brash and handsome Henry Golding) and circling media vultures (Hugh Grant) all sense there is opportunity to sabotage or secure the throne. “The Gentlemen” is a ripper yarn, painted with delicious vulgarity, relentless innuendo and opportunism from Grant’s Fletcher. This parasite has been digging the dirt on Pearson for a tabloid editor (Eddie Marsan going full Napoleon complex, waspish slime-ball). Fletcher decides that taking the info directly to Pearson’s right hand, Charlie Hunnam’s Raymond, may secure a more plentiful bounty.
Ritchie’s formal craft is incredibly assured here. He takes the match-cut hyper-stylisation of his youth, and he puts it in the hands of Grant’s know it all blowhard directing the film from within the film. With a high-end single malt scotch on the rocks in hand, he’s telling his tale with florid panache and embellishments as he sees fit. Fletcher, and his story, is tempered by the fastidious and obsessive-compulsive Raymond (Hunnam). Raymond is the sophisticate of this lot – an embodiment of Ritchie’s ownership and swagger in maturity. Manicured beard, crisp collared shirt, luscious sweater and perfectly symmetrically framed rims. He’s quick to rein in this yarn and keeps the past and present co-existing and grounded as opposed to the film unfolding as one long and increasingly indulgent flashback.
Grant’s Fletcher – The Gentlemen’s mostly reliable, camp and greedy tour guide holding court with Hunnam’s Raymond, maybe the most exceptional performance of the actor’s career. His florid pitch charting the rise and edging to the precipice of Pearson’s (McConaughey) fall is a delight. Fletcher loves the sound of his voice and is intentionally asinine (incessant sexual propositions, deeply insensitive racial impressions). Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) is unshakeable during the sermon, stoically confirming when Fletcher’s hot or cold with a wry smile. It’s a pleasure to hear the Liverpool tones in Hunnam’s natural accent. The risk of stalling the momentum of the story to return to the narrator is overcome in how infectious Grant’s joy as this camp cockroach can be while swills expensive liquor and requests some barbecued Wagyu from his begrudging and far too accommodating (though not without reason) host.
McConaughey’s power drips from him in fashion, aura and a series of transfixing flashbacks of a young Mickey (whose face we never see) followed into situations of dealing drugs and death. Michelle Dockery’s Rosalind is a powerhouse of cockney ferocity, sauntering in heels that could (and perhaps have) impaled a man. She’s very much the Queen that keeps her King’s outsider perspective in check with local savvy; leading from behind. Mathew, their buyer, sees Strong looking at Mickey’s empire like an actuary watching porn – ever calculating hungry eyes. The main thorn in the sale to Mathew (Strong) is Henry Golding’s Dry Eye. Golding is terrific as a dissatisfied and ambitious soldier with an inferiority complex making a major play for the throne.
In “Lock Stock”, characters were on the fringe of the criminal establishment. In “Snatch” the characters were on the brink of breaking through to that big ‘crooked’ time. “The Gentlemen” begins in the halls of power, but has an ear to the ground with Fletcher and with Colin Farrell’s fast-talking Irish fighting Coach and his crew of boys – the self-proclaimed ‘Toddlers.’ This crew of diverse fighters become entangled in sabotaging Pearson’s underground weed operation. They are a necessary and hilarious injection of millennial skulduggery and disruption. Farrell’s mileage makes the Coach a delightful enigma, a well of unanswerable questions that weave a thicker thatch than the patterns on his tracksuit. He’s a guardian angel, and cantankerous Irish “Mickey” for this next generation of Rocky’s, led by Bugzy Malone’s Ernie (grime rapper turned actor).
These boys aren’t exactly subtle as they splash their dirty deeds and ill-gotten gains on the internet in slow-motion break-dance music videos with “Spring Breakers” ski-masks and matching tracksuits that scream their lower-class status and internal resentment of it. The world as it is, and how they see it – are absurdly different. The entitled children of wealthy in the world of “The Gentlemen” are in tremendous existential peril. The upper class is a hollow core to be exploited by the last gasp of large scale criminal enterprise.
On the rough streets, run-down gyms are safe havens for those with the most desire to get above their station but have the least smarts or means to do so. Ritchie is playful and poignant with the contrast. Coach leans into the failures of his students, falling on his sword with repentant respect to Mickey which ultimately saves their skin. The Coach takes time for teaching moments wherever he can. In contrast, Mickey’s wealthy peers are paralysed with the fear of their failure shouted from tabloids and the consequences are titanic.
“The Gentlemen” isn’t subtle. It drips with classy outfits and swag that is just barely rivalled by its unbelievable cast. Hell, there’s even “GRITCHIE” Brewing Company Beers and Pubs and a meta nod to the excellent “The Man from UNCLE.” And comeuppance is particularly grotesque, and in some moments downright Shakespearian. There’s an entire another essay that could be written on how these acts are Ritchie’s tabloid torment revenge fantasies.
Ritchie’s geezer gangster quartet have not dallied much with perception, rather focusing on hyper-stylised authenticity. His break-out “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and its superior follow-up “Snatch” have grown more entertaining with decades of miles and edges that won’t blunt. “RocknRolla” has moments of joy, but it doesn’t resonate for long after viewing. You don’t find yourself saying the lines LONG after seeing “Call me ‘Susan’ if it makes you happy.” “The Gentlemen” on the other hand is a loveable c–t. I’m just stating the facts.