There’s a notion bandied about on Film Twitter that Guy Ritchie never fully recovered following his meteoric rise during his Lock, Stock and Snatch days. Sure, Swept Away was a disaster, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn’t exactly a crown jewel and Aladdin is essentially a glossy cash in. But for those paying attention, Ritchie hits far more than he misses, and those hits range from solid filmmaking to criminally underrated gems. With The Gentlemen, Ritchie isn’t necessarily interested in returning to the high energy grime of Snatch, instead offering a more refined look at the overlapping of London’s underbelly and English aristocracy through the lens of middle age. Oh, and dropping C-bombs as if it’s going out of fashion for our collective enjoyment.
Like with any good Ritchie tale, we’re introduced to a world of deliciously silver tongued gangsters, a menagerie of criminality and amorality, where serendipity is a saving light or a cruel mistress. Obscenely slimy private detective, Fletcher (Hugh Grant) wants to tell well-tailored gangster, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) a story: that of American ex-pat, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). A devilish horticulturalist and intensely astute businessman, Mickey has made a name for himself as being the premiere marijuana cultivator and distributor. But, climbing the underworld ladder and keeping the crown on one’s head isn’t easy, and Mickey sees the writing on the wall that his time as a major player has come to an end. Making large amounts of money and rubbing shoulders with the elite of the UK, Mickey eyes a fellow American billionaire to buy up his business for an agreeable figure in order to retire and live out his days with fiery wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). As the deal is set to close and hands are shook, Chinese hothead, Dry Eye (Henry Golding) throws a spanner in the works by aggressively offering his own price for Mickey’s business, refusing to take no for an answer. In amongst the shady shenanigans is an Irish coach (Colin Farrell) who trains wayward lads to stay on the straight and narrow, a garbage dump of a newspaper magnate (Eddie Marsan), and a sprinkling of Russian heavies. Mix the ingredients together, shake vigorously and enjoy in a chilled glass.
McConaughey acts as the calming centre of the film, especially given who his cohorts are. He’s a kind of comfy leather chair come to life, immaculate in his dress sense and deliberate with his words. His relationship with wife, Rosalind has a unique dynamic. A fiercely independent pairing, neither relies on the other for survival but they are explosive when together. Dockery provides a much needed female voice to the proceedings, even if she may be as brutish as her male counterparts. Hunnam, acting as Mickey’s right hand, is almost as splendidly put together, only with a tint of psycho lurking just under the surface. Watching him play off Hugh Grant’s slippery P.I. is the highlight of the film. A kind of ideological tug of war, where both parties are far too reprehensible to root for either, so the enjoyment comes from the game itself. Grant in particular gnashes at the scenery, bringing out a scummy Michael Caine circa 1965. H\e moves WELL away from the doddering charm of his earlier career and it’s a marvel that he hasn’t attempted to sink his teeth into a character like this before. Golding, too, attempts to shirk his heart throb status from previous outings and ups the evil in his turn as vicious and all-too-eager Dry Eye. And it’s Farrell who provides some of the bigger laughs of the film, flamboyantly dressed (which is saying something given the costume design) and giving the younguns what for, keeping an eye out for the next generation as a paunchy and punchy guardian angel.
The Gentlemen is Ritchie’s form of gangsterism staring down the barrel of middle age. He doesn’t completely attempt to bring the same kind of visual flare and vibrancy as his earlier work, but that feels deliberate. Here he’s far more interested on the idea of when to walk away. McConaughey’s Mickey feels as though he’s reached his pinnacle, and is all too aware that he no longer has the stomach for his line of work. It’s not the first time we’ve seen the “just one more go around and then I’m out” yarn, but it’s unique in the director’s honesty about age. It almost feels like Ritchie wants to say goodbye to the genre for good. Knowing that there’s another generation of gangsters and bad lads on the come up, it’s possible that Ritchie no longer has the interest to tell that story and would rather cash in and let someone else spin that tale. The Gentlemen is a last hurrah and a passing of the torch. Who that torch gest passed on to remains to be seen.