The Gentlemen and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Films
Directed by Guy Ritchie
So hey! Now that we’re talked about our collective complicated relationship with Michael Bay, we might as well get to Guy Ritchie as well! I actually haven’t seen most of his movies, even the ones that everyone else seems to like (no, I haven’t seen Snatch) but the general consensus is well known and can be seen even in the few films I’ve sat through; an over reliance of style over substance which coupled with the wrong material is utterly disastrous. He SOMEHOW didn’t crash and burn with Aladdin even if that isn’t a great movie, but King Arthur was an absolute garbage fire of a movie; one that I’m sure we’ll all have fun laughing about for years to come. Then again, his adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a surprising fun little ride, and with him returning to his comfort zone for this movie maybe he’ll get back into the groove of things and give us something truly enjoyable once again! Can Guy Ritchie still knock it out of the park when he’s doing the one thing we know he’s good at? Let’s find out!!
Told to us by way of Fletcher the journalist (Hugh Grant), Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is the biggest grower and distributor of marijuana in the UK, and despite being so successful and sacrificing so much to keep his business afloat, well he’s approaching that age where there are more important things and so he decides it’s time to sell it. His buyer to be is the much more respectable Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) who will need to pay a pretty penny for it as that kind of infrastructure will be primed to make BILLIONS once pot is legalized in the UK, but as it turns out there’s someone else vying for a chance to get it from Mickey; namely the Chinese-British gangster Dry Eye (Henry Golding) who’s uncle George (Tom Wu) basically controls all the other drugs in the country. Mickey isn’t planning on selling to anyone else though and politely tells him to shove it which was probably the right move to make but still ends up causing headache for Mickey and his crew including his right hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) who coincidently is the person that Fletcher is telling this story to. Kind of seems odd that he’s telling Raymond about things that he was already there for, but Fletcher assures him that there’s a twist to this story that he won’t see coming and is one that he’s certain Raymond and Mickey will be more than willing to pay twenty MILLION dollars to find out. With so much at stake, what will Mickey do (or perhaps have already done given the framing device) to keep his empire from crumbling right before the big sale? What could Fletcher possibly have that Raymond and Mickey don’t already know, and is it really worth as much as he says it is? Will this be the redemption of both Charlie Hunnam and Guy Ritchie after that disastrous King Arthur movie!?
It’s not always easy to look past a REALLY blatant issue in a movie to see everything else that’s great about it, but this might be a case where that effort is warranted. It’s such an oddly paced and weirdly structured film that about an hour into the movie I legitimately thought we were still in the first act, and yet almost every individual scene works in its own isolated little bubble. It’s almost like a sketch comedy movie, like if Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s framing device was a guy reading the book out of order, and if you can look past how bizarrely this whole thing is paced (and a few moments where the crudeness and violence sail right past good taste) then you’ll find a really fun and interesting gangster film here. If only Guy Ritchie wouldn’t get in his own way the whole time, then we could have had something great, but at least he’s back in his element and isn’t trying to turn King Arthur into… I don’t even know; Robin Hood crossed with Dragon Ball Z and Dark Souls? Now that I think about it that does sound amazing, but trust me; he DID indeed find a way to screw that up.
So we might as well not beat around the bush because frankly the movie did enough of that itself; the big problem with the movie is the very intrusive and somewhat tedious framing device where Hugh Grant’s character regales Charlie Hunnam with a story that he already knows. It’s Guy Ritchie indulging in his most precarious of gimmicks which is trying to be smug and clever without losing the audience, and while I won’t say that it COMPLETELY fails to do that, the film just revels in it way too much that it turned me off right off the bat and prepared me to grumble my way through a self-satisfied bore fest. It’s a pretty lousy first impression if nothing else and it just gets in the way of the characters who are VERY entertaining to watch, but then Hugh Grant would stop the momentum dead in its tracks for whatever little indulgence he, or more accurately Guy Ritchie, wanted to impress the audience with and I’m not sure why he expected the audience to be any less frustrated by this than the character HE WROTE INTO THE MOVIE that was listening to it. It’s not completely without its charm and once we get into the meat of the story it becomes less and less prominent in the movie, but it’s the kind of big idea that was either going to make or break this movie and Ritchie’s attempt at it landed squarely on the wrong side.
So aside from the framing device which is pretty much a pacing killer, how does the movie stack up? It’s actually pretty excellent all things considered which is why it’s so frustrating that the whole thing is wrapped in such a wonky package. Due to the nature of the framing device the scenes feel pretty disconnected from one another, but each scene is absolutely brilliant with all of the actors putting in fun and menacing performances; particularly Charlie Hunnam who’s even tempered but easily perturbed second in command has one of the best sequences in the entire movie. Sure it’s a PRETTY blatant rip off of Pulp Fiction, but Ritchie makes it his own and Hunnam is utterly electric in it. McConaughey is good but you already knew that, Colin Farrell is good for what little he’s in it (his subplot with his boys is BRILLIANT and they could do an entire spin-off film with them), Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Stron, Henry Golding, every in this is utterly brilliant because they are given the time to show their stuff on screen. It takes a while to realize this but we’re not watching the ENTIRE career of our characters like with a lot of other gangster films (it would have been nice knowing this ahead of time as it would have helped a bit with the pacing) and instead is more or less a few days in the life of Mickey Pearson and his wacky acquaintances. Not only that, they streamline it even further with ABSOLUTELY no cops or investigation subplot which gives everyone that much more time to just be themselves in front of the camera and it works! Unlike the framing device which is just Guy Ritchie indulging himself, letting every one of these actors build their character, have snappy lines, and yes indulge in the fantastical and almost wish fulfillment nature of gangster films like this means that everyone feels relevant and adds something unique to the otherwise threadbare story; pumped up of course by Ritchie’s direction which when he isn’t off in his own world and is there to SUPPORT the characters makes it all look even cooler than it already is. It’s pure fantasy to be sure, but few can make it work as well as Ritchie; especially with a cast this talented.
The other thing that brings this movie down a bit though is how Ritchie not only indulges in his usual cinematic tricks but in some low brow, uncomfortable, and downright offensive content that feels like try hard edgy nonsense. Most of it is thankfully saved for the third act, but it’s an unnecessary stumbling block for a movie that otherwise didn’t really need it; or at least when it DID need it did a bit more cleverly. There’s a bit with a pig that will no doubt garner the most attention, and I GET why it’s in here since it’s a pretty clear reference to something similar-ish that happened in UK politics in the last few years, but it was so utterly unnecessary and dragged the movie to a halt rather than putting a punctuation mark to one of the subplots. It’s not a deal breaker, especially with the framing device doing the majority of the damage in this, but it’s definitely something worth noting if you plan on seeing this.
Guy Ritchie has always been accused as a lesser Tarantino impersonator, but for what it’s worth and for all its faults I had WAY more fun in this film than in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood or frankly any of Guy Ritchie’s movies in the last few years; certainly his best since The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I’d recommend seeing it in theaters because it’s fun, it’s big, and it goes great with a bucket of popcorn, but I would still caution that the framing device is quite tough on the pacing of this and it takes much longer than it should for things to really get going. One big flaw can ultimately ruin a movie, but that’s gladly not the case here! Though I wouldn’t push your luck, Guy Ritchie. If you make Return of Jafar and half of it is Jason Alexander stopping the movie to tell us how smart he is, I have a feeling that’s not going to go over as well
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