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Ritchie’s rogues return – ‘The Gentlemen’

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We can all agree that no one does charming scumbags like Guy Ritchie, yes? While he certainly has other gifts as a filmmaker, the truth is that Ritchie is never better than when he’s throwing wave after wave of idiosyncratic and charismatic criminals at you.

His latest film (which he both directed and co-wrote) is “The Gentlemen,” a skewed and stylized look at what happens when a career criminal decides to divest himself of his illicit holdings, only to find himself forced to do his own particular brand of business with (and against) those who seek to profit from his departure at his own expense.

With an all-star cast led by Matthew McConaughey and wholly invested in Ritchie’s vision, “The Gentlemen” is a brutal and very funny film, off-kilter and convoluted in the most entertaining ways. It might not ascend to the level of the filmmaker's most beloved works, but it’s still a heck of a good time.

Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey, “The Beach Bum”) is a major drug kingpin, the marijuana king of the U.K. He’s an Oxford-educated American whose own rough upbringing instilled him a willingness to do whatever it takes to stay on top, no matter what. That resolve is doubled by the fierce love shared between him and his brilliant-in-her-own-right wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”). He’s also got a smart, loyal right-hand man in Raymond (Charlie Hunnam, “Triple Frontier”).

Mickey wants to cash out and sell the business. He’s got a buyer all lined up, an effete billionaire named Matthew (Jeremy Strong, TV’s “Succession”). The price is fair, particularly for what amounts to a turnkey operation. Another offer comes – an ill-received lowball from Dry Eye (Henry Golding, “Last Christmas”), an underboss for the ganglord Lord George (Tom Wu, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”) – which in turn leads to a suspicious raid (and subsequent YouTube video) by a group of young fighters on one of Mickey’s locations.

Meanwhile, sleazy private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant, “Paddington 2”) is attempting to blackmail Mickey and company. He had been enlisted by tabloid editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan, “Abigail”) to dig up dirt on Mickey’s operation; Fletcher is willing to rebury that dirt for a price – 20 million pounds, to be exact.

The betrayals start to mount, with Mickey and his crew sharing a single mission: find out who has done them wrong and make them pay. Because while Mickey wanted out, he’s not out yet – and you cross the sort of man that climbs to the top of this particular mountain at your peril.

Now, “The Gentlemen” isn’t a full-on return to “Snatch”/“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” form for Ritchie. This movie doesn’t quite get to that level, but there’s no shame in failing to clear such a high bar; it settles comfortable just below those films, a kinetic and quirky crime thriller packed with charming performances and with energy to spare.

It’s a typically-convoluted plot, with all sorts of unexpected left turns and more than a few red herrings; Ritchie loves nothing more than dropping his characters into complicated narratives and then making them work overtime to sort it all out. It also has the odd combination of grit and garishness at which Ritchie excels, which blends well with the director’s visual aesthetic. It’s a violent and funny movie as well – often at the same time.

But as with Ritchie’s best work, it comes down to the characters, the eloquent dirtbags who smoothly move back and forth across the narrative map, sliding in and out of various subplots while providing an unrelenting charm assault underscored by constant menace – all of it peppered with moments of visceral violence. The overstuffed dialogue works; adopting the “ten words when five will do” attitude leaves a lot of room for the expressive touches that allow the characters to shine.

McConaughey utilizes his own baseline laconicism beautifully here; the aw-shucks vibes are still there, but serving as a mask to hide something steelier and meaner. There’s a thoughtfulness to the performance that really works, and again – if you want charm, McConaughey’s your guy. Hunnam was born to work with Ritchie, capturing that “hard guy in an impeccable suit” archetype that is foundational to the director’s work. Golding goes huge in a way that’s almost too much; almost, but not quite, and thus just right. Dockery is razor-sharp throughout, commanding a screen presence larger than her role, much to the movie’s benefit.

Oh, and Hugh Grant is excellent – he’s such a gloriously watchable sleazebag, a garbage human of the first order who is nevertheless incredibly appealing. Strong, Marsan, Wu – all great. As is Colin Ferrell, who has a handful of scenes as a weirdo gym owner and every moment is a delight.

“The Gentlemen” is a Guy Ritchie movie through and through, evoking a blend of violence and humor via a cast packed with mesmerizing scoundrels. Sure, it’s a bit familiar – there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before – but that’s fine. When you’re seeking out this kind of movie, you’re not looking for a reinvented wheel. This one probably won’t pull any converts, but if you’re already down with Ritchie’s oeuvre, you’re going to have a blast.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Thursday, 30 January 2020 14:04

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