With great financial success (less so, critically) in a more family-friendly market over the last few years, with the likes of Aladdin (2019) and the two Sherlock Holmes films, director Guy Ritchie rings in the new decade by going back to his roots, with a star-studded gangster romp of a film, The Gentlemen.
Predominantly set in London, with a visit to a stately home or two, The Gentlemen tells the story of Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a white trash American expat who managed to build a business empire selling marijuana to the English elite whilst at university. We join his story at the tail end, when he is considering selling his multi-millionaire empire to fellow American drug lord, Matthew (Jeremy Strong). However, as is usually the case with huge business deals, nothing is discreet and soon the sharks start to circle, including the ambitious King Pin wannabe, Dry Eye (Henry Golding) and cockney gang, The Toddler managed by the Coach (Colin Farrell).
The story is follows a narrative style, told from the perspective of investigative journalist, Fletcher (Hugh Grant) to Mickey Pearson’s right hand man, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam). The trouble is, Fletcher is not the most reliable storyteller trying to simultaneously sell both his information on Pearson and a screenplay of his own making, all for a paltry 20 million pounds. What we, as viewers, don’t know is what is real and what has been artistically embellished for dramatic effect, although some of Raymond’s interjections along the way help us out a little bit.
Now whilst that may sound a little confusing, the story actually flows pretty well and is easy to follow, although prepare yourselves for a few twists, turns and red herrings along the way.
Featuring a great and unexpected ensemble cast, the performances throughout were strong and enjoyable. Matthew McConaughey plays an American drug lord, gentrified by the British elite very well, although his ”pint and a pickled egg” did feel a little forced. Michelle Dockery shines as Mickey’s wife and the only ‘proper’ female character, a proper cockney rose amongst thorns. Colin Farrell utilises his natural Irish charm to great effect, Henry Golding delights as the young businessmen trying to play with the big boys and Jeremy Strong’s presence on screen was deceptively calming. In an amongst all the acting talent displayed, for me, there were two standout performances: Hunnam and Grant.
Hunnam didn’t seem to have much dialogue despite his integral position within the film but physically he had a lot of presence. When I left the cinema I heard a woman call Hunnam a ‘poor man’s Tom Hardy’, which I get but I don’t think is entirely fair. Admittedly, Hunnam’s role is one that Hardy would have excelled in but the two are inherently different actors and it’s not fair to compare the two.
If anyone channelled their inner Hardy, for me, it was Hugh Grant. The best way I can explain Grant’s portrayal of the flirtatious and manipulative investigator is part Alfie Solomons/part Ronnie Kray, all Hugh Grant. After watching this film, you will not look at Grant the same way again, he absolutely, completely and utterly stole the show. I think Paddington 2 has opened the world’s eyes to another side of Grant and I, for one, can’t wait to see how much more he can deliver
Whilst Ritchie did include some brief nods to a modern Britain with references to Brexit and Grime music, the overall feel was a little dated and I’m sure the PC police will find a fair few things to complain about, but as long as you prepare yourselves for many, many F-bombs and C-bombs, this is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema. A great way to start the year. Welcome back, Guy Ritchie!!