When the name Guy Ritchie worms its way into any conversation related in some way to film, England or Madonna’s ex-husbands, the response to such a subject can range widely from a fair amount of eye-rolling to a nod of approval when considering the highlights of the director’s career. After storming out of the gate with such cult classics as 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000’s Snatch, misfires as widely panned as 2002’s Swept Away luckily set the stage for a massive rebound in 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and its 2011 follow-up, though the pinball nature of his filmography reared its ugly head once more thanks to the middling box office receipts of 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the overall failure of 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Though last year’s live-action adaptation of Aladdin did well enough to keep him, at least temporarily, out of the feared Director’s Jail for the time being, will the Films Gods Of Acceptable Quality, along with his penchant for cockney narration, a script packed with cursing and the Trainspotting-esque frenzied editing that’s become signature of his work find their way into his newest effort The Gentlemen?
Good news for the Guy Ritchie Fan Club-though the overall look and pacing may be more conventional than some of his previous, perhaps more energetic efforts, this is still unquestionably another tried-and-true addition to the Ritchie resume. Without the assistance of Wikipedia, I highly doubt I’d be able to describe the premise, which layers plotline upon plotline in a manner seen prior by slightly better directors that would’ve easily dissolved into a soupy mess without the fine work shown by the committed cast. Make no mistake-there’s a lot going on, from drug deals to amateur rap music videos, in addition to a runaway girl and someone trying to land a movie deal, all fueled by Ritchie’s, shall we say, knack for bad language, periodic violence and the milieu of England’s side streets & backroads. I suppose this could best be described as just another movie, but doing so would truly serve as nothing more than a complete disservice to nearly every actor on staff, all of whom make the most of what they’re given and somehow make The Gentlemen at the very least watchable.
Matthew McConaughey? He’s here, playing himself again, as a drug kingpin of some sort, while Charle Hunnam may be delivering one of his better performances, though I still don’t know if he’s supposed to be a bodyguard or some sort of hit man-I suppose I skipped that portion of the Wikipedia synopsis or was distracted by the possibility of spaghetti sauce on my face at that moment. Jeremy Strong’s part as the backstabbing business partner (?) of McConaughey is handled well, another indicator that the future looks extremely bright for Strong following such standout roles as that seen in 2015’s The Big Short, and the frequently reliable Colin Farrell’s seedy boxing coach/goon character couldn’t have been a better fit. Finally, Hugh Grant, who upon some discussion is determined to have consistently delivered fine work in the wake of his rom-com days, may be saddled with a role as the person who narrates the film in a bit of an unusual fashion, but still manages to bring the charm he so naturally possesses off set to the surface-he is, as Will Ferrell in the role of James Lipton might utter, always a delight. Yes, there’s other cast members, all of whom do an excellent job with the varying amounts of screentime they’re given, but like the screenplay’s tendency to confuse the audience via the heavily-accented twelve million plots, to name them all would ultimately be a waste of words. Trust me, they’re all great.
My inclination when examining The Gentlemen may appear to lean in the direction of dismissal, but thankfully all those rounding out the cast list helped to keep my attention directed towards the screen even when the overloaded sandwich of seemingly unrelated plotlines struggle to keep this film afloat. There’s nothing overly shocking or surprising about what happens over the course of the near-two hour runtime, outside of some foreseeable twisty moments here and there-simply put, if you’re a Guy Ritchie fan, you’ll probably have a fine time. In terms of the perennial dumping ground that is January’s schedule of movie releases, you could do a lot worse.