Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant
Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) is an American expatriate who became rich by building up a marijuana empire in the UK. However, when word gets out that he is looking to cash out of the business, it triggers an array plots and double-crossing from various parties who want a piece of his vast fortune.
So, Guy Ritchie returns to the mockney-gangster genre that he made his name with, and the undeniable (and only real important) fact is that those that like Lock Stock, Snatch and RocknRolla will like this, while he will certainly will not convert those that did not like it, as The Gentlemen is very much more of the same.
Well, I might as well end the review there…
I won’t however, as that would be a bit lazy, and also though I would say that those that liked his previous similar films (of which I did), The Gentlemen is certainly perfectly watchable (mainly because of the performances) but is just not as good, and unfortunately just serves as a reminder as to why those films were such good fun and superior to The Gentlemen. However, it does also serve as a relief that he has not tried to merge this kind of genre with a historical film (or cast David Beckham) like he did in the disastrous mess that was King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.
For me The Gentlemen has a much weaker and less tightly put together plot than Lock, Stock and two Smoking Barrels and has a script that is a lot weaker, less funny and certainly less quotable than Snatch. There does feel like there is an air of complacency, arrogance and smugness about Guy Ritchie’s approach to The Gentlemen in that he seems to think that he is somehow the king of the genre, and so can just do more of the same and get away with it. After doing a big studio film like Aladdin (where he probably had very little creative freedom) he does appear to think “time to do a film for me, and do the type a film that I am the guv’nor at and can just nail without making too much effort!”
What also does not help is the way the narrative is put together; most of the story is told through a framed narrative in which Hugh Grant’s sleazy tabloid journalist and Charlie Hunnam’s slick and laid-back henchman discuss what happened over whiskey and steaks. Therefore, the classic device of ‘show don’t tell’ is ignored and Ritchie resorts just to ‘tell’ as Grant and Hunnam bombard us with exposition. This allows the story to make intentional errors and include scenes that are ‘made up’ by the narrators, but are ‘cool’ or ‘funny’, but as one then corrects the other, and therefore the film itself acknowledges that such a scene would be ridiculous, and that is apparently fine. This is not quite in the realms of Seven Psychopaths (which really pushed that element of self-referencing way too far), but it does occasionally feel a little cheap and lazy.
The narration does admittedly fit very well with Ritchie’s slick editing and style of storytelling, and The Gentlemen is very watchable and certainly breezes along at quite a pace. However, not only is the narration a tad lazy, but also is the rest of the script; the characters are not quite as well developed or relatable as they have been in Ritchie’s previous films of this genre; Lock Stock and Snatch may have certainly had their fair share of nasty gangsters, but they had a wide variety of different types of characters (some of which were actually quite hapless) that not only mixed the plot up a bit, but gave us some characters with at least a few relatable or likeable characteristics. However, in The Gentlemen most of the main characters are gangsters that have predominantly unlikeable characteristics. There are also then a couple of highly unethical tabloid journalists, and then some wannabe gangster group who call themselves ‘the toddlers’ and film themselves and make rap songs about it (an apparent obvious mocking of ‘drill music’).
The only character in the entire film with any actual decency is basically Colin Farrells’, who tries to coach this group of young urchins to keep them out of trouble. So, asking us to route for anyone in the entire cast of ‘bad guys’ (it is made quite obvious which ones we are supposed to route for) is made that bit more difficult, and for any film of any genre, surely one of the basic rules is that the audience needs characters to really route for and want to see survive the inevitable carnage and high body count. Likewise, the script also often resorts to casual racism for cheap laughs, and though it is of course obvious that the ignorance lies with the characters saying the words, this admittedly quite dated racism does only add to the feeling of laziness in the writing.
One of the best things about Guy Ritchie’s films (of this genre) is often the casting, and he definitely relies on his cast to then elevate the dialogue and rise above the narrative’s inevitable clichés. The dialogue itself in The Gentlemen is certainly sharp and often witty, with characters often trading insults, but is particularly abrasive, as Ritchie relies more than ever on swearing (in particular a more frequent use of the ‘C’ word). Though swearing can be very effective and funny if used sparingly, it of course loses its impact if used too frequently, this over-reliance only further suggests that Ritchie just did not feel the need to make much effort with his script.
However, back to the subject of the cast, and they are without a doubt the best thing about The Gentlemen, as they are all thoroughly enjoying themselves, and their performances certainly elevate the often cliché-ridden and lazy script to make their characters far more likeable than they actually deserve to be. The best of which has to be Charlie Hunnam; on paper his character is a clichéd and two dimensional hitman, but yet Hunnam gives an effortlessly understated and cool performance, and emerges as by far the film’s most likeable character – and this is all down to his performance, and not the script. Colin Farrell has previously proved that he is great in these kinds of roles and is also effortlessly watchable in an understated kind of way. Hugh Grant is also great, but for the opposite reasons, as he gives an intentionally against-type performance in which he really goes for it and chews the scenery with an obvious relish, but there is no doubt that he is great to watch, and also elevates the dialogue to make his despicable character quite compelling. The rest of the cast (including Matthew McConaughey – who plays himself, as always) are obviously enjoying themselves reciting Ritchie’s unsavoury dialogue and often nasty, cliché-ridden, trailer-friendly phrases (who wouldn’t?!?) and their performances do undoubtedly make the whole film more watchable and enjoyable than it probably deserves to be.
As the plot and the various double crossings happen, there are very few surprises in what is a film laden with very predictable plot developments, but because it is being predominantly narrated by the characters, the dialogue abrasive and is ‘visually slick’, Ritchie seems to think that is fine. He only just about gets away with it, and as watchable as The Gentlemen may be, it will be forgotten sooner rather than later.
Guy Ritchie returns to the genre that gave him his name, and it comes with all the hubris expected from a self-crowned ‘king of the genre’; the great cast undoubtedly elevate the somewhat lacklustre script and make The Gentlemen a slick and watchable film, but it is ultimately a reminder that Snatch and Lock Stock may be due a re-watch, while The Gentlemen be forgotten about.