Review By: Jonathan W. Hickman
With “The Gentlemen,” director Guy Ritchie succeeds in putting a “hat on a hat” of the gangster film. Driving home points with repeated exclamation points and narrative twists and turns, his constant refrain of the obvious does wear thin. But given the attractive, game cast, and speedy pace, style masks overripe elements.
It’s likely that Ritchie, who pens the screenplay here, wrote “The Gentlemen” with exact casting in mind. Each character takes advantage of a particular actor’s well-known personality traits. So, this means that Ritchie’s head gangster, Mickey Pearson, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a worldly, rough-hewn, handsome American exuding cool with his slow Southern drawl. On top of that, Mickey runs a massive marijuana criminal organization. Anyone familiar with McConaughey’s behavior outside the movies might think that he’s merely playing a version of himself. After all, in addition to defining long, tall cool, the guy’s embraced his association with high times just last year in the little-seen Harmony Korine film “The Beach Bum.”
The rest of Ritchie’s cast falls along similar lines. Everyone sports trendy facial hair with perfectly manicured beards aplenty. They wear the latest British gangster fab. And every single character knows just how to stand and walk tough. The casting colorfully finds the right way to pose random acts of testosterone.
There’s a scene, for example, when we meet a character named Coach (Colin Farrell) that illustrates my point. The forty-something-year-old Farrell gives Coach a fatherly persona while encountering some unruly, knife-toting teens in a sandwich shop. Clothed in a trendy, plaid sweatsuit and matching cap, he quickly dispatches the teens like some gangster superhero.
Farrell, who has distinguished himself as a mighty fine actor, is way better than this material. However, like everyone in “The Gentlemen,” he’s fun in this knuckle-crunching role. It’s the casting that gives the otherwise contrived narrative a lift.
Ritchie’s script is a kind of joke within a joke. Mickey’s second in command Ray (Charlie Hunnam) is visited by an unscrupulous private detective named Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who then becomes our unreliable narrator. Both men are perfectly bearded, hair coiffed appropriately, and the two proceed to knock-off a fifteen-hundred pound, that’s British Sterling, bottle of Scotch.
Fletcher has been doing some surveillance of Mickey and his organization. He’s got photos, videos, and documents. And he knows that Mickey is trying to sell his operation to a wealthy, nerdy American named Matthew (Jeremy Strong). For a price, Fletcher will keep his mouth shut. If he’s not paid, he’ll spill the beans to a tabloid run by one of Mickey’s enemies named Big Dave (Eddie Marsan). To make matters even more sticky, Fletcher drops on Ray a screenplay he’s written that tracks Mickey’s exploits.
As Fletcher relays the details of his investigation, we see the events dramatized. But Fletcher might not know everything. The holes are still being filled in.
Ritchie spends time with Ray and Fletcher laying plenty of “pipe.” At one point, Fletcher even tells Ray that is what he is doing for the story. “Laying pipe” is a common screenwriter term related to setting up the various plot elements that will congeal later for the big twist or reveal.
By layering the dialogue, and there’s lots and lots of talk, with movie terms, Ritchie is taking the mickey, as they say in the UK, out of the viewer and possibly Hollywood. This wink and a nod may confuse some, enchant others, but frustrate those familiar with particular terms. The hat is put on the hat.
While few would confuse Ritchie with Quentin Tarantino, many critics were quick to compare his work to early QT. “The Gentlemen” is reminiscent of movies that link to a time when Ritchie was known for gangster flicks such as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” I remember sitting at a Toronto International Film Festival press screening in 2005 and enduring his interesting failure “Revolver.” What started as a full screening was half that as the credits rolled. Critics weren’t kind.
No one would have ever thought that Ritchie would be the right fit for Disney, but last year, he put aside his Brit-infused, fouled-mouthed dialogue and bloody violence to helm the live-action, family-friendly “Aladdin.” “The Gentlemen” might be his small way to reassure hard-core fans that he’s not gone soft. And, if nothing else, it accomplishes that goal.
Filled with copious amounts of somewhat witty dialogue, in-jokes (like Henry Golding’s character is referred to as a Chinese James Bond), and tough-guy, tongue-in-cheek violence, “The Gentlemen” is entertaining, if also instantly forgettable.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com