Oh, Guy Ritchie. What a strange career the British writer-director has had, hitting the ground running with 1998’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels — one of the greatest feature-length debuts of all time. Since then, Ritchie’s budgets and box office receipts have skyrocketed all while the actual quality of his films has flatlined. How one of the most promising minds in British filmmaking ended up creating King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is still a mystery to me.

Thankfully, The Gentlemen marks an attempt by Ritchie to come back to his roots: the Cockney gangster drama. His formula has been altered slightly, however, mostly by making his hero the American expat Mickey Pearson, here played with characteristic remove by Matthew McConaughey.

Pearson, having built a marijuana empire from nothing, now wishes to retire and sell his business to billionaire Matthew Berger, imbued with a meaningless degree of camp by Jeremy Strong. As do all retiring criminals, Pearson faces a number of obstacles in his quest to get out, namely from the ever-charismatic Henry Golding‘s Dry Eye, a rival gangster hungry for his cut.

Without giving away too much, the film also has a fun bit of a frame narrative involving Fletcher, a grimy private investigator played by a fantastically out-of-his-comfort-zone Hugh Grant. As with so many Ritchie films, much of The Gentlemen‘s lasting charm comes from its memorable cast of characters. Unlikely Lock, Stock, however, the characters in The Gentlemen descend a bit too often into stereotype and parody to be genuinely engaging in the ways that those in a film like Snatch were.

The plot is expectedly serpentine and full of twists, though the clichés are thankfully mostly saved for the film’s first half, leaving the reveals in the finale to be satisfyingly elusive until the very end. The film runs the risk of overextending itself in several moments but does a remarkable job of contracting its focus at just the right times to avoid any major confusion.

While much of The Gentlemen does indeed feel like classic Ritchie, the return of the old formula does unfortunately mean that there is an obvious lack of originality in the film. Scenarios, scenes, and even a couple individual lines of dialogue have been recycled from the director’s previous features. The resulting effect is an experience that, while satisfying in the way high-energy gangster movies usually are, is severely weakened by some moments that, if not predictable, are certainly uninspired.

There’s much to enjoy during The Gentlemen‘s two-hour runtime and very little to hold on to afterwards. Ritchie’s box office success as a director could likely be attributed to his masterful ability to entertain, a muscle he flexes with vigor in this film. His quest for something more novel and exciting, however, seems to have ended some time ago.

Read more about:

Leave a comment