Above: Guy Ritchie directed "The Gentlemen." (Photo: Miramax)
Movie review: "The Gentlemen," directed by Guy Ritchie, starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, Eddie Marsan. Streaming on various sites.
Anymore, reading the headlines gives me a headache. Maybe this always was the case, I can’t say. But these days the parade of bad news seems to affect me a lot more that it once did.
Supermarket shootings, natural disasters, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, all underscored by the political polarization that seems to get worse every time someone repeats the Great Lie – it can feel overwhelming.
That’s why instead of an Ibuprofen tablet, or a stiff drink – and often after I’ve written a check in the name of some charity I find worthy – I reach for my TV remote and look for a respite, temporary as it might be. And that’s how I came to stream Guy Ritchie’s 2019 film “The Gentlemen.”
How I missed the film when it first came out, I can’t say. Maybe it’s because it opened around here in late January of 2020 and – this being a time when the first news regarding the coming pandemic was breaking – I had better things to do. More likely it was because Ritchie’s previous few films – among them the 2019 live-action version of “Aladdin” and 2017’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” – had underwhelmed me.
This time, however, I was in the mood to revisit the feel of Ritchie’s past hits, most especially the two that earned him his early fame – 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and 2000’s “Snatch,” both of which he also wrote and directed.
The 1998 film, as you’ll recall, is a fanciful, offbeat, at times humorous and often gleefully violent look at London mob life. The wild storyline, which involves a rigged card game, a debt of 500,000 English pounds, a wild heist and a pair of antique shotguns, jump-started the careers of both Vinny Jones and Jason Statham.
“Snatch” is much the same, with a McGuffin being an 86-carat diamond. Around that stolen gem, Ritchie gives us a group of Irish Travelers, a number of boxing matches, one criss-cross after the next – and an improbably entertaining performance by Brad Pitt in which he speaks a mostly unintelligible jabber that is supposed to pass for a Traveler’s brogue.
And now we have “The Gentlemen,” another complex-plotted exercise in criminal action, this one featuring Matthew McConaughey as a cannabis maven named Mickey Pearson. An American, obviously – McConaughey trying to pull off an English accent would have made Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood” look good – Mickey wants to retire and so is selling his illicit enterprise for the sum of $400 million.
It’s when Mickey gives his sales pitch that we discover the secret of his success: He’s co-opted a number of the land-rich, money-poor English nobility into allowing him to grow his plants on (or under) their estates. Things go bad, suddenly, when thieves – a group of amateur fighters who call themselves The Toddlers – rob one of Mickey’s operations, seemingly lowering the value of his business.
Matters get even worse when an upstart Chinese gangster named Dry Eye (played by Henry Golding) attempts to intimidate Mickey into selling to him. Then a tabloid publisher (played by Eddie Marsan) hires a private eye named Fletcher (played by Hugh Grant) to investigate Mickey. Meanwhile, some Russian hoods target Mickey in revenge for the actions of his consigliere, Raymond (played by Charlie Hunnam).
Throughout all this, with its many twists and turns, Ritchie proceeds – as is his way – breathlessly. Yet, in the end, it all ties together, bearing that familiar Ritchie tone that blends dark humor with casual violence. And as in his past films, the capable acting of all involved – from McConaughey, Hunnam and Golding, to Michelle Dockery as Mickey’s tough-as-flint wife, Colin Farrell as The Coach of The Toddlers and especially to Grant, virtually unrecognizable as the sleazy Fletcher – is the key that holds everything together.
Ritchie is never going to be considered a great film director. Not, anyway, in the same sense as Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola. But when it comes to the kind of film he does best, few can match him.
That judgment, of course, is personal opinion. And it’s one that not everyone shares. Reviewer Katie Walsh, for example, unkindly described Ritchie’s “The Gentlemen” as “blinkered by its outdated (and often offensive) alpha male perspective.”
I might agree, if Ritchie were attempting to make heroes out of Mickey and his pals. Yet, clearly, he isn’t. He’s chronicling, as always, the lives of outlaw dummies who are as ridiculous as their actions prove them to be.
In the end, no one should ever take a Ritchie film too seriously. Should I ever read that sentiment expressed in a headline, it just might cure my headache.
A version of this review was previously broadcast on Spokane Public Radio.