You might call The Gentlemen a return to Guy Ritchie’s roots. After a decade of family-friendly adaptations, from Sherlock Holmes to Aladdin, he’s back in the London crime world, where double-crossing is standard and ‘c**t’ is as much affection as insult. You might kindly say it’s a throwback to his best days. You might also call it dated. This is very much like a Guy Ritchie movie from the early 00s, with attitudes to match. In The Gentlemen, it’s like the last twenty years never happened.
Ritchie loves a convoluted plot and The Gentlemen’s is so twisty it has to be narrated. Hugh Grant is Fletcher, a very seedy private investigator. He’s been commissioned by a tabloid newspaper to dig up incriminating evidence on American drug baron Mickey (Matthew McConaughey). Thinking he’s found some really valuable, extra-grubby dirt, Fletcher tries to blackmail Mickey’s right-hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), for £20million. Sitting in Ray’s pristine flat, Fletcher explains everything he knows, unfurling a tale with a massive cast of baddies.
Ritchie has always been good at coming up with memorable, cartoonish characters. The Gentlemen is stuffed with them, played by actors eager to gnaw on scenery. Grant is gleefully oily as lascivious old creep Fletcher, the kind of man whose very existence makes you feel in need of a shower. Colin Farrell is a gobby boxing coach. Henry Golding is a wannabe gangster with big ambition and little clue. Hunnam is excellent as the only real grown-up in the whole operation. McConaughey is very McConaughey-y.
What’s a bit lacking is interesting paths for those characters. The plotting is repetitive; a series of willy-waving confrontations: A lesser gangster threatens a bigger one, then gets put in his place and usually punched or shot. The twists and turns of the betrayals matter little because they’re expected. Each reveal arrives with inevitability.
There’s an awful lot of strangely race-focused jokes here. Not aggressive racism but a sort of 70s ‘fun racism’; the kind that might be brushed off as ‘just having a laugh’ by the person using it. Henry Golding’s Dry Eye is described as looking like a Chinese James Bond, “Ricence to kill” (that’s not a typo). A white man explains, at length, to a black man why being called “black bastard” isn’t racist. There’s an extended gag about an Asian character with the name “Phuc”. The race-based jokes are so frequent that you have to wonder, why that choice? What is a middle-aged, middle-class white man saying here?
The casual racism is all part of a staleness here. This isn’t a 2020 take on Ritchie’s crime world. It’s the same world he was doing 20 years ago. There was an opportunity here for Ritchie to revisit a genre he pretty much created and to reinvent it. Instead he’s made a version of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with bigger stars, bigger budget and less inspiration.
- Director: Guy Ritchie
- Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam
- Release date: 24 January 2020