FILM REVIEW – THE GENTLEMEN. With Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie. Rated R for violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content. 113 minutes.
Guy Ritchie first came to notice with dark crime comedies like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) and “Snatch” (2000). His subsequent career has been all over the place in terms of content and audience appeal (e.g., his most recent film was last year’s live action “Aladdin”), but with THE GENTLEMEN, he returns to his roots. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s violent, and has more twists than a plate of spaghetti.
Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American who came to England on a Rhodes scholarship and stayed to become a marijuana kingpin. Now he’s looking to sell out. After a prologue that sets us up for the plot turns to come, we focus on Pearson’s right-hand-man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) who is visited by Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a sleazy reporter who offers to provide important information – and bury a story about Pearson – for a price. To reveal much more of the plot would rob the viewer of the pleasures of Ritchie’s script, which combines misdirection and the introduction of unexpected characters like a boxing coach played with droll understatement by Colin Farrell, before bringing it all home.
Much of the pleasure comes from the unexpected casting, particularly of Hugh Grant very much cast against type as the egotistical Fletcher who thinks he’s on top of everything, and Hunnam, who gets one of his best roles to date as Pearson’s fixer. McConaughey’s laconic turn as Pearson may be less of a stretch for the actor, until the moments when we discover the man he describes as someone with “blood on his hands.” As his wife, Michelle Dockery gets to play a character a far cry from “Downton Abbey’s” Lady Mary Cawley, complete with stiletto heels that leave you wondering how she stands on them. The cast has a field day with Ritchie’s dialogue – as clever and colorful as in a Quentin Tarentino film – and which remind us these characters are much smarter than they might initially appear.
Coupled with that is Ritchie’s witty direction, such as having the film itself illustrate Fletcher’s points about how he would depict the plot in movie form. More impressive is the way he shows a Hitchcock-like command of his camera, showing us what he wants us to see, and subsequently pulling the rug out from under the viewer. Hitchcock said, in reference to “Psycho,” that he played the audience like an organ. Ritchie does no less here.
This is a violent film and while some of it is played for laughs, it will not be for everyone. However, if you’re not put off by such doings on screen, the ironically titled “The Gentlemen” is hopeful sign that 2020 just might be a good year at the movies.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.