Well maybe you can go home again. Guy Ritchie has spent so long being a big Hollywood director, you’d be forgiven for assuming his fun gangster chops were gone for good, then further assuming that his attempt to reclaim them with The Gentlemen would fail. Nobody wants that, but after sinking as deep as Aladdin, it’s hard to come back (I have to keep reminding myself he’s not the director of Dolittle). And really, that defining Ritchie era only lasted a few movies anyway.
But somehow he managed to pull it off. Things move a little bit slower, and his cast of characters have risen up a few rungs on the social ladder, but The Gentlemen is a worthy addition to the old school Guy Ritchie “good” pile with Snatch, Lock Stock, and RocknRolla (not you, Revolver). Assuming this is something you want, The Gentlemen does its job without a host of modifiers necessary to explain a lack of quality. It is one of these films, for better or worse.
Which is to say, Ritchie’s style may not be for everyone. And if it was back in the day, that might not still be true in 2020. I’m not ready to call The Gentlemen racist, for instance, but a whole bunch of its characters definitely are and spend more time putting that foot in their mouths than most will find necessary, going beyond amoral tough guy posturing to just straight discomfort. Plus, as the title suggests, this is a movie about men, with only really one female character, Michelle Dockery’s Rosalind, who is capable and cool-headed and yet still manages to face a very out-of-left-field threat of rape at one point. So this is not a woke film. It also misses on the scrappy nature of Richie’s first films since its plot focuses not on a group of folks trying to rise to a higher social tier, but rather an already rich dude trying to retire.
While The Gentlemen will leave a bad taste in some viewers mouths’, others will have a wildly good time hanging out with these asshole characters as they weave through a labyrinth of criminal intrigue while wearing funny and/or supremely stylish outfits. Ritchie has assembled a strong cast here led by Matthew McConaughey in full movie star mode and a stoic, capable Charlie Hunnam as his right hand man, Raymond. But the film belongs to the oddballs, in particular Colin Farrell’s heartfelt boxing trainer Coach and Hugh Grant’s slimy bastard Fletcher, whose retelling of the film’s story (with copious breaks for steak and flirting with Charlie Hunnam) lends the film its structure.
That structure gives Ritchie license to play with chronology and tangents from time to time, but overall he keeps things pretty tight. That old style is still there but appropriately toned down a bit with Ritchie’s age. He’s trying to have fun, but doesn’t want to risk irritating anyone and it works far more than if he’d tried to ape the old days out of arbitrary duty to his youthful impulses. Ritchie is more seasoned and it shows. The trade off for being less wild is being more controlled.
And in the broad strokes, there is nothing here you won’t expect. A guy wants something, forces conspire to take it away from him, he retaliates, things get crazy. People die. It’s all very fun and fast-paced and the performances keep it entertaining throughout. It won’t last long in your memory or make much of a mark, but you could do a lot worse with your two hours in the theater, especially in January.