Guy Richie hasn’t played in the British gangster sandbox since 2008’s RocknRolla, an entertaining, humorous yet utterly forgettable foray into the world of the London hardman. The Gentlemen doesn’t so much return Richie to his roots as this crime caper is a different specimen, a more modern upgrade. Not only is his collection of characters here more varied but their actions say far more about them than the story does. Much like his prior efforts, there is a clear lack of convincing character beats here but Richie, thanks to an assist from an unreliable narrator turns this into a positive. While in many ways, this is a welcome return to form for the director, it might just end up being another RocknRolla by the time December comes around.
Telling the story of weed kingpin Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and his attempts to get out of the business before his enemies catch up to him. From new arrival Matthew (Jeremy Strong) to heroin dealer Dry Eye (Henry Golding), everyone wants a piece of the pie and thanks to private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant), everyone’s secrets seem to be everyone else’s business. Mickey, with the assistance of his loyal right-hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam), tries to remain on top while remaining the gentleman his unique business model demands from him.
While similar to RocknRolla in how it plays with time in telling a non-linear narrative, The Gentlemen goes a step further in creating a kind of meta-narrative. Right from the start, the film is framed as a story by Fletcher and Grant manages to imbue the private eye with enough sleazy gravitas to make this story seem both unbelievable and credible all at the same time. In fact Fletcher’s ‘screenplay’ as he likes to call it plays like a story about good and evil if the good guys threatened street kids with automatic weapons or threw young men off balconies. Both the title and Fletcher’s recollection of the story prove to be hypocritical yet wildly fun.
While there is an element of tastelessness on display with an overreliance on swearing as window dressing to scenes that flow just fine, a plot that includes Beastiality, urinating on corpses and projectile vomiting, The Gentlemen is one of Richie’s lighter films. The comedy jumps off the screen with some terrific performances by Colin Farrell and Grant. However, McConaughey finds himself lumbered with the straight man, a role that requires very little of his signature flair. In fact for a film that tries to make light and have a bit of fun, Mickey is perhaps too droll for a film looking to let loose a little.
It all culminates in a film that is everything Richie is known for. A boisterous, loud and over the top story about robbers policing themselves. While clearly given a bigger budget to play with this time, Richie only seems to have gotten brasher. While you shouldn’t go into this expecting subtlety, it might have been nice to have a few moments to take this world in. While the narrative delivery here is cunning in how it places a big question mark over half the films events, knowing what is real and who these people are might have made it easier to remember them by the end.