This isn’t Ritchie’s best, but it fits like a glove
It’s an extremely rare breed of director that becomes known for a signature style.
I find it somewhat odd, then, when the iconic and stylish director Guy Ritchie gets frequently criticized for somehow “returning to the well” or gets culturally penalized for the “samie-ness” of the stamp he puts on his films. Sure, when you get as stylized as Ritchie does, that’s bound to put many people off. Style is quite subjective, after all. It’s not that I don’t understand any kind of criticism of Ritchie. The guy’s only human. But I don’t understand the regular criticism I hear that Ritchie should somehow be docked for applying to his films the signature style that’s built him a successful and decades-spanning career when precisely by applying that style, he’s reached a level of cultural awareness the vast majority of directors will absolutely never achieve. Guy Ritchie is known the world over for delivering a distinct brand of entertainment, and he’s the best in the world at delivering that brand.
Which brings us to The Gentlemen.
Coming off of several larger, more studio tentpole titles such as the Sherlock Holmes films, the box office flop King Arthur (which I borderline loved, naturally), and then the mega-Disney hit Aladdin (which I also borderline loved), this film really is Ritchie returning to his roots. Fitting in comfortably with such early British gangster epics as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, or RockNRolla, The Gentlemen is every bit a chapter in the Guy Ritchie-verse, only with a more famous cast.
It’s actually the cast that provides The Gentlemen with its most standout ingredient from the rest of Ritchie’s British gangster, slang-filled, epically complicated adventures. Matthew McConaughey is the ostensible “lead” king of the jungle weed dealer “Mickey” Pearson. He thankfully plays an American, as I somewhat shudder to imagine McConaughey’s attempts at a British accent. Mickey is not a stretch for him. He plays cooler than cool, and stands on some kind of code that allows him to see himself as less of an evil drug lord because he only deals in weed. He’ll still murder you, but his drugs probably won’t. Yet our guide through this tale is really Ritchie’s Arthur, Charlie Hunnam, as Mickey’s right hand man Ray. After that, it gets a little complicated with all the different players and dealers and foot soldiers. But ultimately The Gentlemen is a tale of Mickey and Ray trying to go out of the drug trade on top, exiting in one piece with a small fortune on their hands. When the king of the jungle tries to cash out, it causes lots of ripples in the underworld. And Ritchie is going to ride those ripples and turn them into as many comedic scenarios and double crosses and twists and turns as he can possibly wring out of that scenario.
Barring the ever-present and ill-conceived racist jokes throughout the movie (more on this later), The Gentlemen goes down very easily and fits like a glove into the Ritchie-verse. That said, it’s a pretty mid-tier entry in this very specific subgenre. While the cast brings a fair amount of star power and feel like they add some gravitas and playfulness to their roles, Ritchie’s script for The Gentlemen doesn’t quite feel as whip-smart or madcap as some of his previous efforts. There’s a certain amount of familiarity at play as Ritchie has been so frequently emulated and his signature style so influential that we’ve now seen quite a lot of this type of thing. He’s partly a victim of his own influence. After a while you start to anticipate the double cross or the reveal or the scene replayed from a different vantage point to peel back another surprise. Generally, however, if you enjoy the types of break-neck rides that Ritchie is known for taking us on, you’ll find a pleasant romp in The Gentlemen.
It’s in the humor where The Gentlemen slips. It’s consistently amusing and Ritchie’s flair for language and slang remains quite strong. But I frequently got the sense that I was supposed to be laughing out loud at various gags and running jokes that, at best, only mildly amused me. Much has been said about the frequent use of racist jokes in the film. Most egregiously, handsome up and comer Henry Golding (as gangster Dry Eye) and his whole Asian gang feel like the butt of quite a few unfunny racial jokes that resort to making fun of accents and the otherness of Asian names. Yes, there’s plenty of insults to be spread about across all the races and cultures represented in the film. There is a largely black gang, and a Jewish gang as well. There’s equal opportunity racism happening all around, and there’s always the argument to be made that depiction doesn’t equal endorsement. Now just feels like a particularly charged time when any kind of racism, even uniformly applied to “all sides”, doesn’t ring humorous, per se. Aside from the racist vibe many of the characters seem to wield, much of the humor just isn’t as gut-busting as Snatch or Lock, Stock.
As much of this review is sounding critical but I ultimately enjoyed the film, I’ll go ahead and highlight some other really great work. Hugh Grant continues to shine as a slimeball after his slippery villain in Paddington 2 and his tabloid reporter/screenwriter Fletcher is wonderfully sleazy here. Much of the storytelling structure of The Gentlemen hangs around Fletcher attempting to blackmail Ray by recapping everything he knows about the power struggle going on. It gives the film the opportunity to bounce around in time and switch perspectives with ease. But mostly it lets Hugh Grant chew the scenery. The always-fantastic Colin Farrell also has a very distinctive, if very supporting, role as well as “The Coach”. He sports nothing but ridiculous track suits and tries to keep his lads from the boxing gym on the up and up by… leading them into a life of crime? It’s pretty funny, even if Farrell is often saddled with some of those unfunny running race gags.
All told, The Gentlemen gets a recommendation for anyone who’s previously enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s signature brand of twisting tales of ne’er-do-wells. These are the types of stories that define Ritchie’s brand, and I’ll always welcome him dipping his toe back into these waters. If Ritchie continued to make a few studio tentpoles and then dip back into another gangster tale for another couple of decades, I’d gladly be there to check them all out. There’s an effortless sense of energy and fun that Ritchie infuses into all of these misadventures. And if he keeps collaborating with new talents and bringing new personalities into his expanding world of criminality, perhaps that will breathe life into each new entry much in the way that worked this time around.
I was thrilled to get the chance to review the 4K UHD of The Gentlemen. And while Ritchie’s movies always have an energetic visual flair, I can’t say the upgrade to 4K made an enormous impression. My standards for assessing a 4K disc’s visuals are admittedly quite subjective. Does it blow me away? Great. Instantly worth the 4K upgrade. Does it just look generally good in the way most films with a decent budget do nowadays? Well… not sure how much the 4K treatment really improves the experience.
In terms of bonus features, The Gentlemen disc I’m reviewing is far from definitive. You’re able to click “play all” and see every bonus feature, which is really nice. Then they’re all done in probably under 10 minutes flat. You get the sense that these were put together for posting on social media and to maybe market the movie through getting viral clicks. That’s all fine, they just don’t feel like anything that gives any insight into the making of the film.
The Gentlemen feels like a solid purchase for Guy Ritchie fans, but the 4K might be reserved for real collectors of the format. Otherwise the Blu-ray should be fine, or even just a rental at that.
And I’m Out.
The Gentlemen hits 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on April 21st, 2020 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment