Guy Ritchie’s latest film, “The Gentlemen,” is a modern suave gangster movie. The film has some good moments but remains deeply mediocre as a whole.
The main strength of “The Gentlemen” is the film’s highly skilled cast and the quality performances each actor delivers. Matthew McConaughey is in fine form as usual as Mickey Pearson, the self-proclaimed “king of the jungle” and marijuana kingpin in England who gets wrapped up in an elaborate plot to steal his growth and distribution network. Charlie Hunnam is brilliant as Mickey’s right hand man and bodyguard, and much of the story is actually told from his perspective.
Colin Farrell has a small but memorable role as a third-party player in the English drug game. Henry Golding delivers a solid performance as one of the film’s colorful criminal antagonists, and Hugh Grant plays an eccentric and cunning blackmailing reporter.
Grant’s reporter character actually narrates most of the story, conveying the events of the film through a contrived framing device that allows Ritchie to manipulate plot elements and control what the audience knows ahead of time. It also provides a convenient excuse to dump exposition when needed and provide spoken introductions to each character as they first appear on screen. The director has used a similar device before in many of his other films, including “Snatch,” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Despite Ritchie and Grant’s best intentions, this storytelling device is poorly executed and results in more bad, eye-rolling filmmaking than any other aspect of the movie.
Beyond the amateurish use of the framing device, Ritchie disrespects his audience by inserting several false moments into the narrative Grant’s character tells. At least twice, we see some characters commit an exciting act of violence only to be interrupted by the storyteller suddenly backtracking. More than once, the audience is shown false scenes under the excuse that Grant’s reporter is just making sure his audience, Hunnam’s character, is paying attention. Worse than a slap in the face to viewers, these scenes are completely unnecessary and clearly just an excuse to pack more meaningless action into the film.
The film isn’t as clever as it tries to be. At one point in the movie, Grant’s character launches into a fast-talking spiel, using film analogies and imagery to try to dazzle the audience with words. The editing at this portion grows similarly frenetic, fast cuts and sounds interject, trying desperately to distract the audience from the pointlessness and emptiness of the character’s words. This atmosphere persists throughout most of the movie. It always seems like Ricthie is trying to distract his audience from the fact that the film has no substance.
Despite the significant flaws in the way the story is told, the plot of the film is actually entertaining. There are just enough characters, twists and turns to make the film feel like a real gangster movie, and the acting is good enough to make watching the story unfold feel worthwhile. The fact that the film follows well-dressed, cockney English criminals instead of the American characters and backgrounds audiences are used to gives the plot some degree of novelty. However, while the plot does successfully drive the film and its characters, it isn’t compelling enough to elevate the movie above mediocrity.
“The Gentlemen” can be described as the sum of its parts. It has an average plot. It tells its story in a below average way. It has slightly above average acting. Overall, these pieces amount to a somewhat enjoyable yet emotionally and creatively empty film. There’s nothing special about “The Gentlemen,” nothing that makes it unique. The film isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, and it’s only the acting of its stars that keeps it afloat.