It probably wasn’t until Paddington 2 that I really gave a shit about Hugh Grant. When it comes to his acting career, all I ever really associated with him were Richard Curtis movies and I’m not a huge fan of Richard Curtis movies. Don’t get me started on how awful Love Actually actually is. It was Paddington 2 that really showed how much fun he could be. So, when I saw the trailer for Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen I was quite excited to see it. I can’t say that Ritchie has ever been my favourite director even before he started making guff like King Arthur and Aladdin. They just weren’t the films I was interested in watching. I guess his films are fun in their own way. Just as long as you don’t mind gangs in London who have a penchant for violence.
The Gentlemen saw director Guy Ritchie back to doing what he does best. His return to his roots and the London centric crime romp. Is it also a return to his top form? Probably not quite but there is certainly a lot to enjoy here. For one thing, the cast is a spectacular array of British talent with Matthew McConaughey thrown in for good measure. They all manage to come up with something entertaining. Something that feels very familiar. If you’re a fan of Ritchie’s early films, you’ll feel perfectly happy here as this is pretty much a throwback movie. A way for Ritchie to say that, despite his big box office efforts of late, he’s still that Lock Stock guy that celebrated white male bravado.
The premise is fairly straightforward as we see McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson, an American expatriate who owns a very successful weed empire. He has a in with a bunch of British toffs which has allowed him to make quite a name for himself. But Mickey wants out. His plan is to sell everything to an American billionaire. At the behest of his wife, Mickey is trying to do this quietly but the word is out. Causing him to get a visit from a young up-and-comer Dry-Eye. He wants Mickey’s business for himself and he’ll do whatever he needs to in order to get it.
While the basic plot is fairly straightforward, it is all laid out to use thanks to a nifty framing narrative. Hugh Grant plays a sleazy private investigator, Fletcher, who has been hired to find out Mickey’s secrets. Something he’s succeeded at. During a late-night visit to Mickey’s right-hand man, Fletcher makes Mickey an offer. Pay up and all of his secrets go away. Fail and the fil script Fletcher has written detailing recent events will get sent out into the world. But what will Mickey decide?
The framing narrative is an interesting creative choice and it allows Fletcher to play around with the story. We see him embellish certain events, rewind them, and amp up the action. It’s also a pretty convoluted way to present the plot. It gives Ritchie too much room to offer his perspective on the film industry. We see Fletcher talking about aspect ratios and storytelling. It’s a bit of fun but it also feels quite laborious. It takes up a lot of time that could be spent just telling the story. It feels as though Ritchie is trying to get a bit clever but doesn’t quite pull it off. Really, if Hugh Grant wasn’t having so much fun, it probably wouldn’t work at all.
Which happens a lot during this film. The cast do a lot of work to bring this together. The film itself feels like a throwback but not in a good way. The script is full of dodgy moments and the stereotypes just feel tired. There’s a whole racial thing going on in this film that just feels very untimely. The white Mickey is an entrepreneur for selling rich kids their weed but the Asian gang are murderers who push their product on unhappy rich kids. Thought, unsurprisingly, Ritchie’s film has been hailed a triumph by those who throw the word “woke” around as though it’s the worst insult ever heard.
I guess you could almost justify it had the film actually been outstanding but it’s just not. Some people would probably argue that the film is trying to make a point about race in our current society. However, if that is the case, he needed to do more with it. Instead, he just races along to the ending. It’s not that this film isn’t well-made or entertaining. It is both of those things. It just doesn’t feel any different to the majority of his films. There is nothing fresh here and nothing to really excite. Well, apart from Charlie Hunnam in glasses. That probably got me more invested in the film more than anything Ritchie had actually written.