Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Pearson
Director & Writer: Guy Ritchie
Growing up in poverty, U.S. born Mickey Pearson was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship– introducing him to the posher atmosphere of England’s, Oxford University. Taking his street smarts and lifestyle with him, Mickey begins selling pot to his classmates. Eventually, Mickey sets his sights on higher goals and goes on a bloody rampage that puts him at the top of England’s marijuana kingdom. Nobody messes with Mickey, and over the years he hasn’t had the need to show his force or power through violence. He is part of Britain’s high society, he is married to a woman he loves, and no one dares cross him and his crew. The time has come though–in Mickey’s mind–to give up the game and head into drug kingpin retirement.
Mickey plans to sell his empire to another American, Matthew Berger, to the tune of $400 Million. Berger, of course, needs assurances that he is getting his money’s worth. After all, marijuana will most probably be legal in the United Kingdom very soon. Mickey tours Berger around, shows him the intricacies of this operation to set his mind at ease. Everything seems to be in the bag until Dry Eye, a lieutenant in the Lord George crime syndicate, comes to Mickey with his own offer for the business. It seems everyone knows Mickey is selling his empire, and everything begins to fall apart. A gang of breakdancing thieves robs one of Mickey’s pot farms, unwanted parties begin approaching his wife, and even attempts are made on his life.
There is one man though that claims to know what is going on behind the scenes. Fletcher, a slimy P.I. who works mainly for the tabloid king, “Big Dave,” claims to know who is trying to screw over Mickey’s exit from the drug trade. For a cool £20 Million, Fletcher will not only give up the goods on who is sticking their heads where it doesn’t belong, but he’ll also deliver it all in a tightly written film script, penned by himself…how thoughtful.
It’s a Guy Ritchie crime film. Even Ritchie’s weaker entries in this genre still have a charm and an atmosphere about them–sans Revolver, maybe. While The Gentlemen isn’t as rife with the same magnitude of witty, colorful banter you’d expect compared to past outings, you can hear that flamboyant dialogue seeping through. There are highlights here and there, mainly coming from Colin Farrell and Henry Golding–who are the stand-outs this time around. Hugh Grant’s Fletcher does get to play around the most with those juicier morsels of verbal gymnastics, but as fun as it is to see Grant dipping his toes into the water, it just feels a bit off. He’s absolutely serviceable as the despicably underhanded Fletcher, but he’s a bit late to the game. I can’t rightly judge someone’s performance in comparison to others from completely different films, but this is Grant trying to turn in that out-of-the-box portrayal that his peers already perfected. This is Sir Ben Kingsley taking on Don Logan in Sexy Beast, Ralph Fiennes cracking open Harry Waters from In Bruges. Hugh doesn’t disappoint, but he doesn’t change the game, either.
All the characters walk a fine line. Like an unexpected visit from your unstable, parolee cousin– there is a quiet storm of menacing fear just below the surface. Sometimes everyone is chill and relaxed as can be, then the next minute they’re climbing up the walls in a manic state of fury. Normally, this imbalance would be a point of contention for me, but there is a reason for it. The narrative structure of The Gentlemen is told through Fletcher’s eyes as he recounts the tale to Mickey’s #1, Raymond. What the viewing audience is being exposed to is the scripted version of events as told by Fletcher. Not only was he not directly involved in any of the proceedings, but he also envisions it as a grand scale Guy Ritchie film. While this gives leeway for the actors to take their performances over the top, no one truly bursts into the realm of overstated buffoonery.
All of this helps lead to a grander discussion of what each audience member experienced. One could say that 99% of what was shown on screen, didn’t actually happen. Others can pick out the pieces that clearly were true, and separate them more outrageous potions. Flashy crime dramas can easily be seen as appealing more to their colorful aspects, as opposed to their deeper morality messages. By delivering The Gentlemen in this off-brand package, Guy Ritchie found a way to keep the discussion going, even if said discussion is only about the more facetious elements of the film. It also, however, causes the most problems with the film.
What Didn’t Work:
The Gentlemen takes its sweet time to get going. Look, you don’t need to thrill me and keep me on the edge of my seat from the very first second, but due to its unorthodox story structure, The Gentlemen finds itself at the starting line for practically and hour. By the time most films (even the long ones) are into their second act, The Gentlemen is still introducing characters and plot points. The end result may come with a pretty bow wrapped around it, but it comes at the cost of watching a frustrated boyfriend faffing about as he throws away another wasted roll of wrapping paper while preparing that last-minute Valentine’s Day present for his girlfriend. Style is great and all, but this story could have also been told and been just as poignant without the convoluted structure. It also doesn’t help when the director feels that flashy visual clues need to be presented to the audience early on to help them understand that what Fletcher says is more of a movie than a series of facts. The film strip framing technique as Fletcher describes the feeling of watching a film is fleeting and a one-off. More of a distraction than a hip act of rebellious filmmaking.
Remember too, a few paragraphs ago when I mentioned how the framing of the story meant that the actors can be bigger than life, and it would have been warranted? Well, there is one case that didn’t benefit from this and that is Jeremy Strong. His portrayal of the foppish, snooty Matthew Berger was oozing with camp to the point that every time he opened his mouth, I couldn’t help but laugh. It feels a bit odd to be critical after I said the structure gave way for the actors to be as over the top as they wanted, but the Berger character just seemed too out of place. If you want, you can eat an entire chocolate cake or your own, but there is a difference between picking it up with your hands and just shoving it all directly down your throat than eating it calmly and steadily with a fork or spoon.
Can we also talk about Marijuana for a minute? I’m no expert in any sense of what it takes to sell/farm the plant, and I have no clue what-so-ever on how to set up, maintain, and staff a large distribution business that caters to an entire country to sell them anything, let alone an illegal substance. Still, I can’t help but wonder how the guy who only sells the sweetleaf and nothing else, became the kingpin. Yes, there are other people out there who sell illicit items throughout Britain, but it’s painted as if each faction focuses on a single substance. Again, I know it is a whole country, but Mickey owns and runs a 400 million dollar empire on weed alone? Definitely correct me if I’m wrong, but they just seems too far fetched, even for the film with-in a film breakdown that Fletcher wants to spin.
The Bottom Line:
It’s really simple; if you like Guy Ritchie when he makes a crime movie, then you’ll be pleased to see your man back in action. If you’re indifferent toward Ritchie but still like the genre, you’ll enjoy yourself as well. With an impressive cast, all portraying a wide array of character types, there is plenty for audiences for grab onto. As I said earlier though, Colin Farrell and Henry Golding steal the show. Yet, there will be some people out there who might feel bored and frustrated by the enigma-like storytelling, and for those people, well they just need to find another dealer…I mean filmmaker!
The Gentlemen will premiere in U.S. theaters this Friday!