The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen

2020, R, 113 min. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, Christopher Evangelou, Eddie Marsan.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Jan. 24, 2020

British filmmaker Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch) gangsters up again in this crime comedy where the underworld is a literal one of subterranean farms harvesting illicit weed beneath England’s centuries-old manors. Above ground, Oxford-educated American expatriate Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) has decided to sell his lucrative cannabis empire for $400 million and enjoy early retirement in the UK with his equally enterprising wife (a very un-Downton Dockery), but the drug deal hits a few snags as the complicated plot zigzags from a fey Jewish American billionaire (Strong) to a coolly brutal Chinese gang lord (Golding) to a no-nonsense boxing coach (Farrell) and his crew of rapping pugilists, all sporting Burberry stripes and plaids tailor-made for an Esquire fashion spread. And yes, there are Russian mobsters making an obligatory appearance to further disrupt any linear narrative.

Ritchie structures much of the script as a pitch for a movie entitled (cue snigger) Bush – what’s up with the preoccupation with slang for female genitalia, Guy? – that doubles as a blackmail threat, the pitcher being an opportunistic tabloid journalist (Cockney-accented Grant in delightfully sleazy form) and the pitchee Pearson’s dutiful consigliere (Hunnam). As the title intimates, The Gentlemen refines the earmarks of Ritchie’s early rough-and-tumble work in its more genteel milieu of tweed jackets and candle-lit dining rooms, but it’s less a return to auteur form for the director than a calculated penance for his recent splash in the blockbuster mainstream with Disney’s live-action musical Aladdin, where the operative C-words are “cash” and “cow”.

In treading the familiar ground of Ritchie’s youthful entertainments, the newly released The Gentlemen already feels dated, even anachronous, particularly in these woke times. The crafted patter of verbose dialogue often strains to find a natural rhythm, although there’s an occasional gem in the lot, such as the apt utterance: “There’s fuckery afoot” The occasional onscreen flashing to translate arcane jargon or perform some other momentary function no longer amuses as it once did. But it’s the old-school, prep-school style of homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism that casually surfaces in that jars the most. Here, one man’s touch of another man’s thigh is laughably icky; a Vietnamese man’s name of “Phuc” is an extended gag; and a Jewish double-crosser’s punishment is positively Shylockian. Come to think of it, the villains are gay, Asian, or Jewish, while the heroes are straight, Caucasian, and presumably Protestant (not to mention blond), just like the gentleman who made this film. Movies shouldn’t have to meet a PC checklist so they won’t offend – who wants that kind of cinema? – but when they poke you in the eye one too many times, it’s fair game to poke back.

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The Gentlemen, Guy Ritchie, Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, Christopher Evangelou, Eddie Marsan

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