The Gentlemen may have an inconsequential plot, but it never ceases to be a good time.
Featuring an all-star cast led by Matthew McConaughey, The Gentlemen borrows its best bits from director Guy Ritchie’s much better Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. While there never seems to be enough thrills or mystery, his most-recent crime caper is never dull thanks to a great cast and ludicrous story.
At the centre of The Gentlemen is a yarn spun by Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a photographer-turned-blackmailer. Fletcher is looking for a handout from Mickey (McConaughey), an American who has built himself a marijuana empire on British soil and has been approached to sell his grow-ops by a number of British-based gangsters, including the upstart Dry Eye (Henry Golding). A cavalcade of backstabbers and blackmailers, crooks and con men are out for Mickey’s goods as his right-hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam) attempts to find out who the mastermind behind the whole hostile takeover is.
The Gentlemen’s frenetically-paced story is impressive if only for the fact that there’s so much going on in the oft-convoluted and uneven plot that it all amounts to nothing of real consequence.
There’s a side story involving a boxing coach played Colin Farrell who wears elaborately ugly plaid tracksuits, while Michelle Dockery is cast as Mickey’s wife Roz, a woman who runs an all-female mechanic shop that works on the high-end cars of wealthy British women. Eddie Marsan is also among the cast as a tabloid newspaper editor who has earned the scorn of Mickey thanks to his lurid front-page headlines of British Lords. Then there’s the Jewish investor with Mossad ties played by Jeremy Strong who is out for a cut of Mickey’s business.
All of these characters and their subplots and backstories are happening concurrently at break-neck speed that makes it difficult to follow any semblance of a narrative thread at times. Is this happening in the past or present? Is this the truth or another red herring? Who knows! It doesn’t matter!
Ritchie, who also wrote the screenplay, seems to have come up with the ending first and then used every character and narrative thread he could to try to justify the grand finale…which isn’t all that grand. The Gentlemen feels like Ritchie running on autopilot, but overall, the good still outweighs the bad, even if he can’t even manage to nail down a coherent tone in a movie where crucial scenes involve projectile vomiting and bestiality (though luckily for viewers, not at the same time). Mickey is put in some sticky situations, but it never really manages to feel like the danger is all that imminent or insurmountable.
The key to The Gentlemen’s entertaining success is its ensemble cast.
McConaughey delivers exactly the kind of performance you’d expect in a role that’s really here for him to sit back and look like someone who watches a lot of Peaky Blinders. Luckily for Charlie Hunnam, he gets to share the majority of his screen time with Grant, wonderfully playing against type in a scene-stealing performance as Fletcher. Farrell, too, gets a lot of the laughs and fun as Coach, leading a band of misguided youths who’d rather be filming street fighting videos than throwing punches in a boxing ring.
As the sole woman of consequence in the cast, Dockery is great as Roz, lighting up the screen and holding her own against the rough and tumble. It’s just a shame she doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do. And no, if you couldn’t guess from the film’s title or cast, this one definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.
The one real miscast is Henry Golding as Dry Eye. Golding, whose charm worked wonders in Crazy Rich Asians, doesn’t seem to convincingly pull off the part of a Chinese gangster. Instead, he feels like a petulant child rather than someone who could spell real trouble for Mickey.
Despite Ritchie throwing absolutely everything at the wall and trying to find out what sticks, The Gentlemen still manages to be an entertaining ride, even if you won’t remember the plot or how the events all tie together the minutes the credits roll. And that’s fine.
The Gentlemen is currently playing in theatres.