The Gentleman, the latest from skittish British director Guy Ritchie, gives you exactly what you expect from a Guy Ritchie movie that’s not being restrained by studio decorum or suavely bloated with the Hollywood big bucks. It’s talky and twisty, as usual, but also exuberantly violent (rather than the safe studio PG-13) and has some more outright dicey morally characters (cue someone saying “Chinaman”). Also as usual, it’s stuffed with big name actors who seem to be having a good time, and like many Ritchie films, this a very male heavy and centric movie.
The actors have bene studiously decorated and sometimes flamboyantly sleazed up with flashy outfits, ranging facial hair and hair product, and statement-making eyewear. Hugh Grant wears glasses (and a goatee), as do Charlie Hunnam, Jeremy Strong and Colin Farrell. And they all deliver lightly funny, loose turns that can be generally enjoyable to watch. That’s especially true of Grant (as a scummy snoop of a tabloid juggernaut) and Farrell (as a earnest but lethal boxing coach of many tracksuits), whose roles, performances and outfits seem designed to obliterate their leading-man personas. Henry Golding, the breakout romantic lead of Crazy Rich Asians, on the other hand doesn’t really demolish his persona, than he just shrewdly roughs it up.
One of Farrell’s many tracksuits — boasting a dazzling tartan pattern — is a thing of ludicrous beauty, as is his movie-stealing performance. His character is soft and tough, likes hats and further accessorizes with a crew of gym rats, who also rock the tartan tracksuits. In once scene, the gym rats rip off an illegal cannabis farm owned by a prowling kingpin played by Matthew McConaughey; they record the theft and turn it into a diverting music video and post it online. It gets a lot of hits (and is a bit annoying). This reads as yet another of Ritchie’s moments of cinematic self-reflexivity (as well as wishful thinking), much like the long-winded story that Grant’s character tells and that eventually leads to a laugh-killing shot of the Miramax logo. It’s a film that finds him back on home turf, with some tech and cultural updates thrown into the labyrinth plot, The Gentleman still smacks of the ’90s quite heavily. It even includes a shot lovingly recreated by Tarantino wannabes everywhere — maybe it’s not a mistake, seeing that Ritchie is firmly the most successful of Tarantino spawns.
The plot, in very brief, hinges on McConaughey’s kingpin, an American who’s built a lucrative illegal pot empire and is now thinking of hanging it all up. His wife, played by Michelle Dockery with a fierce blank arrogance, has a garage mostly staffed by women (who sadly don’t get much to do). The kingpin’s plans lead to complications, including from Strong, whose wealthy businessman is sometimes called “the Jew,” and has an unplaceable accent and walks with the delicacy of a snobby Pomeranian.
Throughout the film, a lot happens, like a lot of Ritchie films. There are villains and supervillains, crime and punishment, winks and splatter-happy blood. In one scene, you, for some reason, see a poster for Ritchie’s (underrated) 2015 reroute The Man from U.N.C.L.E., one of Ritchie’s stronger studio films. Here, McConaughey takes the lead and serves as the narrator but often feels irrelevant. The whole point seems to be cleverness and looking cool, though, mostly the movie seems to be about Ritchie’s own clear pleasure in directing famous actors having a lark, trading insults, making mischief. And there isn’t much else, which depending on your mood or taste, can very well be enough. The Gentleman can be overstuffed and a little derivative, but in the end it delivers exactly what you might expect from a non-studio constrained Guy Richie movie: a passable, but likely forgettable, romp.