Ever since “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”, director Guy Ritchie’s career has been in a slump. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” seemed like a promising sell given its cast and Ritchie’s reputation with general audiences. It was one of the biggest box office flops that year. Two years later, Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” became one of the most infamous box office failures in recent memory. It appears that Ritchie played the game to get his career out of its recession by making Disney’s inevitable Aladdin remake, one of the biggest films of last year. “The Gentlemen” is a solid return to form to his early schtick.
The story is along the lines of something like “Breaking Bad” (although not nearly as good) and the presentation is something like “Goodfellas” (although not nearly as good). Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is a drug emperor. He explains that because of Britains small land area, there is nowhere for him to grown marijuana. So, he opens several underground facilities. They are so massive that the end is not even in sight in the camera. After a group of wannabe gangsters break in and steal a bunch of his product, conflict arises.
The film is told with nonlinear flashbacks, with Charlie Hunnam and Hugh Grant being the narrators. Their performances are strong. As is the rest of the cast. “The Gentlemen”, as well as the rest of Guy Ritchie’s films that succeed, are largely due in part to the casts understanding of his style. Ritchie’s style is nothing special, comparable to a B-list version of Martin Scorsese, with less nuance. His casting choices, despite his filmmaking style being over-present and sometimes too much, are when his films can become something special.
The standouts in “The Gentlemen” are Collin Farrel and Hugh Grant. In the overbearing presence of Guy Ritchie’s style, they have brought performances are subtle enough to create really memorable, unique characters. The rest of the cast ranges good to great. They bring with them a level of companionship and humor that could only come from a Guy Ritchie movie. The weak performance being from Jeremy Strong, who unfortunately enough, plays the villain.
Where the film stumbles (but doesn’t fall) is in the story, which does little to nothing to separate itself from any other gangster crime movie. Even though the film has bait and switch moments, expectations are never subverted. We’ve been conditioned to expect all this. Additionally, while most of the film nails wholly creating a style, some scenes are just too much. If it bends, its fine. If it breaks, you’re done. Every now and then, the film breaks.
Even though the film is too much at times with its over the top style and ridiculous scenes, the film ends up hitting enough marks just right to be worth watching. The story is nothing unique, nor is it really trying to be. “The Gentlemen” speaks to a certain kind of audience, the kind that can handle stuff as ridiculous as “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. It does not speak to the audience of Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, however.