Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) has built up a reputation for a certain type of film — movies that are violent, droll and very British. “The Gentlemen” is no exception, adding another fast-moving crime action film to his repertoire. Considering Ritchie’s latest film “Aladdin,” it’s nice to see him returning to what he’s known for: sharp cuts, sharper wit and unbridled action.
Luckily for us, just because Ritchie has returned to his typical form doesn’t mean the movie is predictable. Ritchie’s choices are bold and keep the audience on their toes. This is a movie where anyone could be killed at any time; you never see the shot coming until you’re watching someone clean up the blood.
The main plot centers on Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”), who operates a marijuana empire in Britain and is looking to buy out the business. Characters quickly fall into the roles of allies or enemies of Pearson’s empire; that said, the film is unafraid to swap these roles partway through. Still, the original perceptions are clear from the get-go: Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong, “Succession”), a wealthy American who plans to buy Pearson’s business; Rosalind (Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”), Pearson’s wife, described as the queen of the empire and the “Cockney Cleopatra”; Coach (Colin Farrell, “The Lobster”), a local boxing coach who briefly works for Pearson with a strong Irish accent and even stronger loyalty and Dry Eye (Henry Golding, “Crazy Rich Asians”), a proper antagonist who snarls a lot and wears surprisingly fashionable clothing given that he kills people.
The story is not told impartially, but instead by Fletcher (Hugh Grant, “Notting Hill”), a private investigator hired by tabloid head Big Dave (Eddie Marsan, “Happy-Go-Lucky”). Fletcher is an incredibly unreliable narrator, sharing with Pearson’s right-hand man, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”), his knowledge of Pearson’s empire in the form of a movie script he has very proudly written, promising not to reveal any of it in exchange for money. As a result, some of the particularly dramatic sequences are not “real” parts of the story, but merely Fletcher’s embellishments on what “actually happened” to make his script more movie-friendly. While it’s fascinating to see Grant in a role entirely unlike the posh rom-com boyfriends he has played in the past, he is having an absolute blast, showing off the seedy goatee, literal rose-colored glasses and unearned confidence of a man who thinks he’s talked his way into 20 million pounds.
“The Gentlemen” is only Ritchie’s fourth film that he has directed, written and produced, so it’s interesting to see his choices when he has full creative control. Profanity runs rampant throughout — “fuck” and its variants are used upwards of 150 times, according to IMDb. Jokes unabashedly border the line of being offensive, occasionally hitting on blatant racism and anti-Semitism. The film is a sausage fest, with Rosalind Pearson as the only interesting female character, and even then she didn’t do much for the film. Some scenes are gory merely for gore’s sake. Yet Ritchie’s ability to tap into the moral ambiguity of his “Gentlemen” makes for an intriguing set of characters who shock viewers with the strength of their instincts.
The men in “Gentlemen” are not good guys. These “Gentlemen” are violent, snarky and morally complex. Yet they aren’t entirely villains either. By the end of the film, there’s blood on everyone’s hands, but the characters are multi-faceted — not simply sadistic, but violent with a purpose. Pearson tortures a rival with poison and gives him the antidote rather than kill him. Coach offers someone tea and tries to make them feel comfortable while also threatening to release a disturbing and incriminating video. They force the viewer to reconsider their previous ideas of good and bad and instead embrace these antiheroes as the objects of their attention. Whether it’s people falling out of windows or Colin Farrell and five young British rappers wearing matching plaid tracksuits, or simply the way in which these men interact and test each other’s moral compasses, “The Gentlemen” finds ways to overwhelm and entertain its viewers.