Movie Review | The Gentlemen
By Morgan Gilmer
The Quick Take: A gangster flick with a hint of refinement, The Gentlemen delivers a fast-moving and comedic experience, but it fails to overcome the downfalls of the genre and adds nothing remarkably new.
Guy Ritchie’s latest film tells the story of businessman Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an American expat in England who has made his fortune selling cannabis, as he attempts to sell his business to fellow businessman Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong). As word spreads of this proposed transaction, an ensemble of characters enters the scene looking to cash in on Mickey’s empire themselves. Antics ensue as in any other gangster film except this one has just a sprinkle of British poshness.
The movie is told mostly through recollection of evidence by private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) as he claims to pitch a screenplay (based on the events within the film) to Mickey’s right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), in order to blackmail Mickey into paying him a small fortune. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it kind of is. The first few scenes of the movie move at a pace so disorientingly fast that there’s hardly any time to learn anyone’s name let alone their motives. The sudden shifts between Fletcher’s pitch and the actual events of the film provide very little time for the ensemble of characters to find their voices.
Though no character really gets a moment to shine, each character has at least some of a spark. From Matthew Berger’s homburg hat to Coach’s (Colin Farrell) gingham tracksuits, the costuming is exquisite and helps alleviate the stress of the fast-moving plot by making each character comically recognizable. Thank goodness for the costuming because the lack of personality in the characters would otherwise make them an indistinguishable mush of gangster types. No performance truly stood out, but that’s simply because there isn’t enough time in each scene for a character to shine.
Don’t let that turn you off though – once the film finds its pace, it proves to be a cheeky and engaging gangster film laden with “naughty” language. Ritchie’s screenplay delivers copious sexual innuendos and plenty of slang terminology for cannabis – all of which received the small bursts of laughter in the theatre that Ritchie intended. If you’d rather not hear the “c word” more than thirty times in under two hours, this movie just might not be for you.
Unfortunately, the movie reeks of decades gone by with its glaring racism. Henry Golding’s on-screen appearances as Dry Eye are, without fail, bookmarked with disgusting, racist remarks. Another scene with Lord George (Tom Wu) involves a patronizing and misguided speech in which Mickey condemns the Chinese gangsters for pushing heroin while glorifying his own white weed empire for making a drug that, in his words, doesn’t kill and thus makes him a better, purer man with fewer vices. If that was supposed to be some sort of message or moral in the movie, Ritchie failed to otherwise convey that Mickey and his white weed empire is somehow more holy than any of the other characters in the movie. If you’re expecting some sort of meaningful takeaway from the movie, let me be the first to tell you you’re wasting your time.
Ritchie might have forgotten Mickey’s wife, Rosalind Pearson (Michelle Dockery), throughout most of the film, but I certainly did not. She is set up within the first few scenes as Mickey’s true love and his world. His only real motivation for getting out of the cannabis business appears to be to spend time with her and start a family. Despite this seemingly important role and a very high billing, Michelle Dockery plays one of the smallest parts in the film – which is saying something since there really aren’t any “big” roles in the movie. Still, she manages to shine as much as her poorly written role could allow. The bar for women in action films is low – like touching the floor, you-can’t-possibly-mess-this-up-more-than-it-has-already-been-messed-up low. For a moment, I really thought the movie was going to let me leave with at least a hint of a good taste in my mouth after a particularly empowering scene featuring Rosalind. Alas (and fair warning), Ritchie decides to immediately follow this moment of “girl power” with an unnecessarily drawn out attempt at sexual violence where, despite having just proven herself capable of self-defense, Rosalind must be saved like a damsel in distress.
If you’re expecting anything new from The Gentlemen, you won’t get it. There might be a message somewhere in there, but while the narrative style is fun and unique, it is easily overshadowed by a lack of character development and glaring racism and sexism. Refreshingly, it moves very well, and the “twists” in the movie are arguably semi-clever. It certainly isn’t family fun, but it is some kind of fun. What kind that is, you’ll have to decide for yourself.