- The Gentlemen
- Written and directed by Guy Ritchie
- Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell and Michelle Dockery
- Classification R
- 113 minutes
Oh, they’re having so much fun, these roguish lads, that it would be uncharitable to criticize them too harshly. And it’s January, so why resist? Better to chuckle fondly, enjoy your popcorn and move on.
Writer/director Guy Ritchie arrived in 1998, bullets whizzing, with the catchy crime caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But for all his tough-bloke posturings, his career followed a conventional arc: Establish your auteur cred with more genre films – Snatch, Revolver, RocknRolla. Marry a pop star (Madonna). Make her dreadful passion project (Swept Away). Divorce. Use your snappy aesthetic to goose a Hollywood property (Sherlock Holmes, with its famous slo-mo punch). Make more Hollywood flicks, including a box-office disappointment, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, and a smash, the live-action Aladdin, which grossed a billion dollars last year. Turn 50 (he’s now 51). Return to your crime-caper roots, but with a grown-up movie this time – more talk than action, and less insistent on giving the audience visual whiplash.
So let’s revise that “roguish lads” to “still-roguish men,” because Ritchie’s subjects here are aging bucks who are hoping to cash out. As one character chides another, “When the Silverback’s got more silver than back, he best move on.” In this, Ritchie joins many other 50+ stars and directors, who lately have made films centred on the rue of aging men: Brad Pitt in Ad Astra, Pitt and Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese in The Irishman, even Will Smith in Bad Boys for Life.
Ritchie’s version goes like this: Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), humble-born but brilliant American, has parlayed his days selling weed at Oxford into a vast marijuana empire, cleverly hidden on the estates of impoverished aristocrats. He prides himself on his pacificity – “My jam doesn’t kill anyone, and I like that,” he purrs. But he and his streetwise wife (Michelle Dockery) have had enough. He wants to sell his empire for a reasonable price to Matthew (Succession’s Jeremy Strong, mincing ever so slightly).
Enter complications: Various rival mobsters Russian, Chinese and British-Jamaican, plus a tabloid reporter, Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who is trying to extort Mickey via his consiglieri, Ray (Charlie Hunnam). It is Fletcher who narrates this whole story to Ray, rife with flashbacks and cutaways. This device serves only one purpose, to lead us to a Big Twist. The kind of Big Twist that makes no damn sense if you think it through, but who cares because Big Twist!
The movie isn’t about anything, really, other than “white guys get away with stuff.” A tinge of racism and homophobia almost-but-not-quite ruins the enjoyment. But see it for the actors, gnawing away at the scenery, wearing fabulous costumes and hurling insults at one another that would do Armando Iannucci proud.
First of all, McConaughey. I just like him. I like that he’s a Zen koan in human form. I like how thoroughly he commits. I like how he unfurls every line at the same speed and in the same calm tone, and then finally yells two words – “He put his hands on MY WIFE” – so we know he’s snapped.
I’ve also interviewed him a few times, and he really is as he seems – live and let live, sweet and slow as molasses but radiating a taut hum of authenticity. In one of my favourite interviews ever, I asked him a series of questions for an InStyle feature called “What’s Sexy Now.” It was morning in Texas (where he was; we were on the phone), and it sounded as if he possibly, maybe could have been high. He answered every question – “Saturday night or Sunday morning?” “Foreplay or afterplay?” – with thundering enthusiasm, and in the pauses where he was considering his answers, he hummed. “A little hold music for you,” he said. I just like him.
Next, Grant. I’ve interviewed him a few times, too, and when he was playing romcom heroes, he just seemed so miserable. Playing a scamp in Bridget Jones’s Diary and a ne’er-do-well in About a Boy clearly made him happier, and in the miniseries A Very English Scandal, he brilliantly eviscerates the British upper class. He has so much juicy fun here with a Cockney accent and rose-tinted aviator shades, sending up a tabloid scumbag – the kind he’s spent the past several years suing in real life – that it’s impossible not to grin.
And finally, there’s Colin Farrell, who plays a boxing coach called Coach, who tries to keep his Jamaican-English charges on, if not the straight and narrow, the straighter and narrower. He and his lads all wear plaid tracksuits, and it’s a testament to Farrell that he makes this feel entirely natural rather than stunty. He is an underrated master who can do no wrong, and I wish this movie starred him.
The Gentlemen opens on Jan. 24.