Guy Ritchie has always been a polarizing film-maker. While some praise his movies for their stylized nature, non-linear structure, brisk pace and chaotic characters…others may criticize them for those exact reasons. So with ‘The gentlemen’ being released to praises and claims of it marking Ritchie’s return to form, there’s a nudging question as to whether there was really any form to return to in the first place.
Image source: Filmhallen
The Gentlemen is as chaotic an ensemble film as they get. The story revolves around Michael Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an American marijuana kingpin operating in England who has his eyes set on early retirement, looking to sell off his business to billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) and recede quietly into a castle somewhere. This choice sets off a chain of events involving; blackmail, sabotage and murder all in a bid to undermine Pearson and steal his empire from right beneath him. Luckily though, he’s got a brazenly competent right hand man, Ray, played by Charlie Hunnam and his arm around his queen, the apple of his eye, the lady to whom all roads lead to, street savvy Essex girl Rosalind played by Michelle Dockery. He is a man feared all over the drug underworld, he drips of Ritchie’s signature blend of brute masculinity, sophistication and remarkable intellect. He seems to be the kind of man Ritchie dreams of embodying and if the film serves any purpose, it is to tell us that we should too.
The film sets off in a ‘falling dominoes’ fashion, news of Pearson’s intended retirement reaches Dry Eye, a high rolling smuggler who tries to outbid Berger for Pearson’s empire, an offer which Pearson scornfully turns down. Things then begin to fall apart in Pearson’s carefully constructed world; one of his marijuana plantations is raided and an attempt on his life is made. His efforts to do damage control are also compromised when an innocent young man ends up dead in the hands of his associates. It starts to become clear that this may not be as smooth a transition as he was initially hoping for, all the while there is a man photographing all these events in quiet bliss and I’m not talking about Guy Ritchie…though he does wink at the idea somewhere along all this, I’m talking about sneaky pesty reporter Fletcher, beautifully portrayed by Hugh Grant who seems to be reinventing his career between this, Man From Uncle, Paddington 2 and Florence Foster Jenkins. He’s no longer shackled by his own success or pigeonholed by his star persona where we’d only expect Hugh grant to be Hugh grant on screen. Long gone are the days of the stuttering bright eyed chap oblivious of his own charm, a template he seemed to use on repeat till at some point he too seemed to be irritated by it. With his new roles he’s allowed the freedom to be bonkers, repulsive and oddly lovable in his outlandish antics. He seems to revel at this new character actor persona he’s taken up as opposed to the charming romantic lead and I for one could not be happier about it.
His character here acts as the audience’s pathway into the story, our narrator of sorts. He “lays pipe” on who Pearson is and what his ordeal is about, he does this in a meta screenplay fashion, as though he’s pitching a movie (turns out he is) and gives us seemingly intricate details as to how the players in the story are in a bid to turn chaos on each other. The first hour of this film ends up throwing a whole lot of information and character introductions at you full of twists and fake outs. The result is a somewhat disorienting ride that makes you feel like you’ve just seen a two hour movie while you’re barely past the one hour mark.
The scenes play out like they were written by Tarantino without the depth or meticulous structure. It ends up being an exercise in showcasing characters trying to outmatch each other in masculine suave and coolness in a way that suggests what you’re watching is intelligent when it really isn’t. Ritchie tries to cover up the paper thin characters with drawn out monologues that are at first entertaining but end up feeling tired when you realize that there’s really not much there. There’s a point they’re trying to get to but they muddle it up with so much nonsense I was left screaming in my head, “Get to the point!” That’s however not to say that I hated the film, it’s a very entertaining picture. One thing you can’t deny about Ritchie is that he knows how to direct his actors to great comedic performances. The jokes are the strongest parts in his writing, at least in my opinion, and he brilliantly complements them with his shooting style. However, throughout the whole experience you feel as though Ritchie is nudging you to acknowledge his cleverness in structure, marvel at how meticulously the events are laid out and it may have felt clever and meticulous in the days of Lock stock and Snatch but now it just feels like a gimmick, a somewhat intriguingly used gimmick but a gimmick nevertheless.