The Gentlemen (2020) Review
THERE’S F**KERY AFOOT!
Since the golden age of Hollywood, gangster / mobster films have had a cinematic attraction with studios and moviegoers alike; a sort of harmonious intrigue of the two, with tales of tragedy, treachery, and gripping tension keeping its viewers on the edge of their seats and invested in the story being told. While symbolic gangster films have touched upon the American Hollywood spotlight, including Scarface, Goodfellas, The Untouchables and the Godfather trilogy, there’s plenty of other offerings of the gangster variety from “across the pond”; finding the British gangster films variety well-placed and having their own style and flavor. Some popular releases include like 1971’s Get Carter, 1980’s The Long Good Friday, 1998’s Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels, 2000’s Snatch, 2004’s Layer Cake, and several others. Now, STX Films and director Guy Ritchie release the newest British gangster feature film with the movie The Gentlemen. Does the film find its “British” storytelling roots or does it get lost within its own narrative?
Sleazy reporter for a British tabloid, Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is always “on the hunt” for a big juicy story; coming into possession of information that will be of use to one Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), who is employed as a right-hand man for notorious Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an established kingpin of the marijuana empire in England with his loyal wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), by his side. Eager to collect a fortune for the knowledge he has, Fletcher shares his concerns about a deal Mickey is negotiating with Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), who is ready to buy Pearson’s mighty drug empire business to a fellow American for hefty $400 million dollars. However, a disruption occurs between the two, with a young newcomer gangster named Dry Eye (Henry Golding), who seeks to purchase Mickey’s business for a considerably lower amount, while a man named “Coach” (Colin Farrell) discovers his boxing students have gotten into trouble by infiltrating one of Mickey’s secretive weed distribution centers. With all this information at his disposal, Fletcher seeks to “cash in” on what he possess by attempting to inspire Raymond to buy his silence, but the gangster seems aloof to Fletcher’s narrative, listening to the reporter weave together a story fact and fiction as Raymond knows more that want he’s leading on of all these individuals in Fletcher’s tale.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Cinematically speaking, British gangster features have certainly have had their own distinct swagger and filmmaking entertainment in how it displays its narrative of storytelling. Sure, the effects are quite similar to the American classics (as I mentioned above), but I think British gangster movies have a slightly different take on these criminal narratives. My first introduction of these types of movies was from 2004’s Layer Cake, which I looked at a year after its release due to the fact that actor Daniel Craig won the James Bond role (for 2006’s Casino Royale and beyond) because of this movie. Personally, I liked it as it showed the distinct “look and feel” of a British gangster feature as I then proceed to check out several other movies, including Snatch, Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels, and Rocknrolla. So, while it may not outshine the American gangster films that Hollywood has produced, British gangster films have certainly made a name for themselves.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about The Gentlemen, a 2020 film and the latest British gangster endeavor. I actually didn’t really hear much about this movie when it was first announced. I think I briefly heard about after the release of Disney’s 2019’s live-action remake of Aladdin, with Guy Ritchie’s project next being a British gangster endeavor. After that, I didn’t hear much about the project until I saw the film’s movie trailer, which I saw a few times during the “coming attractions” previews during my weekly movie theater outings. From what I could gather from the trailer, the movie very much looked like a proper “British gangster” feature, with plenty of nuances showcased in the preview as well as recognizable cast. So, while I wasn’t fully intrigued in the movie, I was a bit curious to see how the movie was gonna be received by critics and moviegoers. Thus, I decided to check the movie out during its opening weekend. And what did I think of it? Well, both good and bad and just somewhere in-between. While the cast entertains in the roles and the film is quite cheeky and stylish (in Ritchie’s flair), The Gentlemen is a standard (and otherwise confusing) British gangster motion picture that’s hampered by wonky creative decisions and bland storytelling. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not a prolithic cinematic tale as it strives to be.
As stated above, The Gentleman is directed Guy Ritchie, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Snatch, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Rocknrolla. While his past background is steepled in British gangster filmmaking projects, Ritchie has ventured into other storytelling for theatrical motion pictures narratives, including Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Aladdin; favoring with mixed results on all those projects. Thus, with The Gentlemen, Ritchie sort of returns to his “roots” of British gangster movies; carving out a new slice of gangster drama for viewers to delight in. In that regard, Ritchie certainly succeeds and actually does better than some of his more recent works in the past several years (most notably in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). Given his wealth of knowledge of the genre, Ritchie makes The Gentlemen an addition to his past gangster endeavors; utilizing his own personal style and visual flair to make the feature’s story “pop” with frenetic dialogue (more on that below) and to his narrative progression flourishes of storytelling. Plus, Ritchie is big director in the whole “British gangster” movies, so it’s quite easy to see him go to work and shape the film in and around its various characters and plot points; showcasing his depth in drama making and cinematic nuances of the genre. Additionally, the movie is not just about brutal violence between gangs or anything like that, with Ritchie making The Gentlemen a more sophisticated nature by adding a lot of mystery and political maneuvering by ways and means to Mickey’s empire, Fletcher’s story, Raymond’s involvement, and Dry Eye’s angle. Thus, even if you don’t particularly care for the movie, you still have to somewhat appreciate Ritchie’s visual knowledge of the British gangster aspect and rejoice in his return to the genre in a cheeky way.
In terms of the film’s overall appearance and presentation, The Gentlemen does certainly succeed in being a solid feature film; translating Ritchie’s style and narrative design into a cinematic tale from start to finish. Of course, Ritchie doesn’t “romance” the whole British gangster with opulent background and settings with a polish sparkle, but rather gives the film’s world an organic feeling to it all; creating a vivid living world of England….from the stately manor of the English lords to Mickey’s secretive marijuana deposit distribution centers. Thus, the background of The Gentlemen certainly has a distinct “British” feeling throughout the feature, which does make it a character unto itself. So, the film’s technical achievements done by Gemma Jackson (production designs), Sarah Whittle (set decorations), Michael Wilkinson (costume designs), and Alan Stewart (cinematography), are all well-represented and solidly down. Even the film’s score, which was done by Christopher Benstead, offers up a nice touch of music composition pieces as well as selection songs that peppered throughout the movie.
Unfortunately, The Gentlemen does struggle in its undertaking and, while it surely does eat and breathe whole the “British gangster” mantra and premise from onset to conclusion, it’s a problematic feature that’s hampered by Ritchie’s artistic style and execution. For starters, Ritchie’s initial plan to frame the film in such causes many problems; utilizing the Fletcher’s tale he’s spinning (in the conversation he is sharing with Raymond) to act as the layout for The Gentlemen’s story for large portion of the film’s runtime (i.e. mostly the first two acts of the movie). While this technique is not unconventional for cinematic storytelling, it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t become a distraction nor a problem to the feature’s flow and pacing. Unfortunately, it does, with Fletcher’s narration becoming frequently distracting from the get-go; often going on tangents of “out of place” callouts to filmmaking techniques and story fakeouts that take the air of the feature’s proceedings. Ritchie has certainly used this tactic a few times in his past directorial works, but storytelling method becomes a bit off-putting several times in The Gentlemen, including a few “doubled back” moments of the narrative once the movie catches up to Fletcher’s story. It’s silly, tedious, and overexerting the film’s story in way that becomes tiresome.
Coinciding with that framework of storytelling, the movie is quite boring within the first half of the feature. Clocking in at around 113 minutes (one hour and fifty-three minutes), The Gentlemen isn’t that long of a film; safely under the two hours mark. However, it certainly feels much longer than what is actual is. What do I mean? Well, with Fletcher’s narration setting up the feature’s main storyline for a great part of the movie, the actual staging of events isn’t that quite interesting; often meandering through tedious sequences that do little to excite and / or to move the plot forward. Thus, the film’s first two acts have sluggish feel to them and its pacing is lackadaisical at best; creating a boring narration that never comes alive (for the most part). The third act certainly picks up the pace and ties all events together, but it’s a bit “too little, too late” in my book.
This also plays into the film’s script, which was penned by Ritchie as well as Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davises, which seems a bit lazy in shaping with plenty of fragmented chunks, boring story sections (i.e. Raymond’s mission to save a lord’s daughter), and some plain uninteresting characters that certainly fit the classic British gangster archetypes / stereotypes. Plus, the barrage of fanciful and witty dialogue lines that Ritchie usually utilized in his movies is on full display in the movie and, while it works sometimes as cheeky cleverness with characters, becomes a bit too much and comes off as pretentious and silly. Also, the film’s script clearly paints who the actual “main bad guy” very early on the film’s narrative that the actual “unmasking” the truth is rendered a moot point.
The cast of The Gentlemen is well-stacked, with plenty of recognizable acting talents that were selected to play the various characters (be it major or supporting) in the film. All of them are good in their respective roles, but it is the film’s script that hampers many of them. Of course, they are well-represented (physically), but what’s written on paper doesn’t fully translate well to on-screen; finding Ritchie’s style of storytelling a perplexing and making the film’s characters a bit mundane / conventional. Thus, of course, makes the film relying on the “star power” of the actors and actresses involved, which certainly does work, but only to a certain degree. This is clearly notable in the film’s two leads characters of Mickey Pearson (the somewhat main protagonist) and of Dry Eye (the somewhat main antagonist), who are played by actors Matthew McConaughey and Henry Golding. McConaughey, known for his roles in Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, and Interstellar, makes for a fun interoperation of a gangster kingpin boss and certainly “fits the bill” for what Ritchie wants to make Mickey Pearson to be; playing up his “calm and cool” theatrical stage persona in the role. Still, with the film’s script holding the character back from being original or creatively done, there’s not “alluring magic” behind the character beyond McConaughey’s on-screen presence. All in all, while it may not be his defining character role, McConaughey is fine as Mickey. Unfortunately, Golding, known for his roles in A Simple Favor, Last Christmas, and Crazy Rich Asians, seems quite the miscast in the role as the ruthless young and up-coming gangster Dry Eyed, who seeks to muscle his way into Pearson’s empire by causing havoc and problems throughout the movie. It’s definitely quite clear how both the Ritchie and the movie’s script how they want to make Dry Eye in the movie, but Golding never truly fits the character’s sinister role; feeling ill equipped to pose a threat and still has the lingering “pretty / nice” guy from past projects. Thus, Golding, try as he might, never quite fits what the movie demands of his character; making his portrayal of Dry Eye a redundant miscast.
While some might consider those two as the true main characters of the film (at least in the story being told), The Gentlemen gives the most screen-time to the characters Raymond and Fletcher, who act as the narrators for a great bulk of the story / plot of the film in both Fletcher’s tale he spins and what takes place after. Of course, the acting talents behind them are great, with actors Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy and Pacific Rim) and Hugh Grant (Notting Hill and About a Boy) in their respective roles. Personally, these two characters get the most screen-time and have the most to develop in the feature, with Hunnam and Grant having the most fun in the roles, with Hunnam projecting Raymond as the sort of right-hand man mobster that’s calm, cool, and collective (leading on more than he knows) throughout, while Grant’s Fletcher is more of a flashy savant of mystery, intrigue, and fully enjoys telling a good story (as the movie suggest). The problem, however, is what I stated above, with the feature’s frame-working of these two characters in telling The Gentlemen’s narrative and making the main story (i.e. what transpires between Mickey and Dry Eye) taking a backseat. Still, for what its worth, Hunnam and Grant make for the delightful pairing of characters and their on-screen interactions are terrific.
In more large supporting roles, actor Colin Farrell (The Lobster and Alexander) plays the character of Coach, a seasoned trained fighter whose boys get entangled in Pearson’s marijuana distribution. Farrell is certainly up to the task in making the character his own and does so beautifully (probably my third favorite character in The Gentlemen), but the film’s script constricts the character from growing and you (as the viewer) kind of want to see “Coach” have a more important role than what was given. Next, actor Jeremy Strong (Succession and The Big Short) plays the character of Matthew Berger, an American business tycoon is looking to purchase Mickey’s marijuana empire. Like Farrell, Strong is a capable of making the character his own construct creation; channeling a stuffy (almost snotty) persona in Matthew and is quite a delight when on-screen, but it is held back the script painting him as a generic character beyond his initial setup. Lastly, actress Michelle Dockery (Downtown Abbey and Non-Stop) plays the role Mickey’s wife, Rosalind Pearson. While Dockery certainly looks the part and talk’s the talk of her character, the character of Rosalind is just the generic gangster’s kingpin wife and does little more than that, which is a shame.
The rest of the cast, including actor Eddie Marsen (Ray Donovan and Atomic Blonde) as Big Dave (Fletcher’s boss), actor Tom Wu (White Dragon and Marco Polo) as Dry Eye’s boss, Lord George, actor Chidi Ajufo (Worldstar Headquarters and The Widow) as Raymond’s muscle, Bunny, actor Jason Wong (White Dragon and Missing) as Dry Eye’s henchmen, Phuc, actor Gershwyn Eustache Jnr (Britannia and Run) as Roger, actor Franz Drameh (Attack the Block and Edge of Tomorrow) as Benny, actor James Warren (Snatch and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) as Jim, actress Eliot Sumner (Me Without You and Stardust) as Laura Pressfield, and actor Samuel West (Notting Hill and Suffragette) and actress Geraldine Somerville (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Gosford Park) as Laura’s parents, Lord and Lady Pressfield, make up the rest of the players in The Gentlemen in minor supporting roles. Though their screen time is limited, their performances are still decent enough to make them noteworthy whenever on-screen.
Who’s telling the truth and how can Mickey Pearson outmaneuver his competition in the movie The Gentlemen. Director Guy Ritchie’s latest project sees the director return to his “British gangster” movie roots; painting a feature that finds plenty of cheek and style within its mobster tale of dubious men and their suspicious motives. Despite a fun and recognizable cast and gangster premise of backstabbing and shady maneuvering, the movie can’t rise above middling affair, especially in Ritchie’s framework for the feature, uninteresting characters, some wasted acting talents, a boring narrative progression, and predictable twists and turns. To me, the movie was mediocre at best. I can see why some people might like it, but the movie wasn’t fantastic as some are claiming it to be. Everything comes together in the end, but it takes quite a laborious (otherwise boring) time getting there. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is solid “iffy choice” as some might like it, while others will simply won’t get it (including myself). All in all, while Richie will continue to release new films and British gangster features will be released, The Gentlemen is somewhere in the middle of it all. It’s not completely terrible, but also not the greatest out there. It’s just stuck.
3.2 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: January 24th, 2020
Reviewed On: January 29th, 2020
The Gentlemen is 113 minutes long and is rated R for violence, language throughout, sexual references, and drug content