Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant
By Nicole Ackman
With “The Gentleman” (2020), Guy Ritchie attempts to prove that he’s still the king of British gangster films, but he falls a bit short. It’s certainly an entertaining romp as a myriad of charming and talented actors get into all sorts of scrapes while trying to pass a booming marijuana business into different hands. Despite the film’s strong points, it lacks cohesion and the treatment of its only central female character is abysmal.
Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American living in London who has built a marijuana empire, selling to the upper classes. However, he’s ready to sell out and enjoy life with his beloved wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). Gangster Dry Eye (Henry Golding) causes trouble and things go awry for Pearson. Most of the film is structured through the rather dramatic private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) telling Pearson’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) everything that he has discovered and offering to sell his evidence instead of taking it to the press.
If that sounds a bit convoluted, that’s because it is. The film suffers from having too many characters (there are many more in addition to those named above) and not taking the time to clarify the relationships between most of them. The language could be shocking to some as they drop both the “f-word” and the “c-word” so frequently, it almost feels like they’re trying to make a point of it.
The film also suffers from not seeming to know what it wants to be. At times, it’s a serious crime film. At others, it’s a campy fun flick more in the vein of “Knives Out” (2019). When McConaughey monologues at the beginning and end, it feels more like a luxury car commercial than anything else.
The film suffers from having too many characters (there are many more in addition to those named above) and not taking the time to clarify the relationships between most of them.
There’s no denying that Hugh Grant is at his best when he’s playing a campy antagonist and he’s absolutely delightful in this. He plays up the comedy so well and is hilarious as he flirts with Hunnam as Raymond. He and Colin Farrell as a boxing ring coach called Coach are clearly the stars of the show. It’s always great to see Farrell get to use his Irish accent and he really shines as one of the few likable characters in this piece: a boxing coach who is determined to make amends when his boys get tangled up in the mess.
On the other hand, Jeremy Strong’s performance was so dry that it came off as mostly just monotone. Golding has shown such talent in his work thus far, but he just wasn’t given much to work with in this film. He plays an antagonist with no clear motives for his villainy and his performance seems a bit wooden. McConaughey seems to be be in a much more serious movie than what “The Gentleman” actually is. His performance is actually good; it just feels a bit out of touch with everything going on around him.
The film is very heavily stylized from the editing to the costumes. There’s some writing that pops up on the screen, a whole bit about analog film versus digital — just enough that we never could forget that we’re watching a movie. The costumes are certainly nothing that we haven’t seen before, but it’s hard not to appreciate that many gorgeous plaid suits.
[it] feels sloppily made without a coherent tone and while there are some great performances, they don’t entirely work next to each other. Add the truly uncomfortable treatment of women to that and the movie falls flat
The biggest issue the film has is its treatment of its one central female character: Mickey’s wife, Rosalind. Michelle Dockery turns out a lovely comedic performance and it’s hilarious to see her with a strong Cockney accent right after seeing her play the posh Lady Mary Crawley in “Downton Abbey” (2019) last year. But Rosalind is some sort of strange male fantasy: a woman who owns a car garage with all female workers (“a sanctuary for the ladies,” she says), but struts around it in fancy jumpsuits and Louboutins.
There’s a scene in which she is sexually assaulted and while it’s not explicit, it is very uncomfortable and it’s clearly there to further Mickey’s character and actions, not her own. You can read Caz Armstrong’s full piece on sexual violence in “The Gentlemen” for a more in-depth analysis. It’s not just women who are treated poorly in this film though; there are also some off-color jokes about black and Jewish characters.
The audience I was in certainly ate this movie up, so I’m sure it will have its fans. But it feels sloppily made without a coherent tone and while there are some great performances, they don’t entirely work next to each other. Add the truly uncomfortable treatment of women to that and the movie falls flat. As Rosalind says, “There’s fuckery afoot.” It’s clear that Ritchie is trying to make a comeback to what he’s known for after directing “Aladdin” (2019) and he certainly does that — he just doesn’t do it very well.