After a rather bewildering trip into the world of Disney for his Aladdin remake; Guy Richie is returning to familiar ground with his latest cockney gangster flick: The Gentlemen.
You can’t say he hasn’t assembled a sumptuous cast either, with such heavyweight names as Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Grant, and talented supporting names such as Colin Farrell and Eddie Marsan (a man who might be in the race for unluckiest characters in film). You can’t accuse Richie of aiming low for his return.
Tempting us in trailers that focus on the quirky characters in this films universe, and their relationships, as well as some well-placed gun fights to whet our appetite for the bloody action to come, it seemed like an interesting proposition for a film, and definitely a comfortable area for Richie, who made his name with films like this, so it’s nice to see him return to the homestead, so to speak.
Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) is an American ex-pat drug lord, running London’s marijuana game, only he wants to leave that life behind and spend time at home with his wife, which brings a few prospective buyers out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, the drug landscape is a volatile one, and just a few carelessly discarded matches could result in an inferno.
There’s a reason Guy Richie is well-regarded for his UK-based gangster-films, he’s very good at them. He can write an intricate plot surrounding several interesting characters, yet still retain the entertainment value in the film.
Take the story’s structure for example; it’s a classic re-working of the ‘person telling the story to another person’ plot device that we’ve seen before in film, except this film is no Princess Bride. Rather than a trusted family member recounting a story to a younger relative, instead told by a journalist, who we learn can’t be trusted as far as we can throw them, and this is well-known to the recipient of this story, who was at the heart of the tale being told, not giving away a single detail to the slimy reporter he’s trying to work to his own ends.
All of this is helped by being portrayed as interesting characters, all with a hint of mystery to them. They may well all have their own agendas, this is the appeal of the unfolding story in front of us, and it’s a great ride unwrapping it all, I can tell you.
Hugh Grant is the showstealer for me, playing the aforementioned slimy reporter, completely against type; he still radiates charm, but not in his usual heart-stealing ways, more in a dark manipulator way. It’s telling that his character always wears sunglasses, as it hides his eyes, and maybe his intentions, if we’re going to read into these things.
He’s by no means alone in the impressive performance stakes; Colin Farrell is very enjoyable as a boxing gym owner who gets caught up in the ensuing mayhem, making full use of his Irish accent to wonderful effect, McConaughey radiates suave charisma, as well as hiding a dark streak to his character that is rarely seen, but when it is brought out it shoots off the screen like a firecracker.
I must take a moment to empathise with poor Eddie Marsan, whose characters continue to have the worst luck on screen since Sean Bean. Previously, all the characters I’ve seen him play have died on-screen, and let’s just say his character here meets a fate worse than death.
I like how Richie structures the tale on-screen too, unravelling it in a manner more akin to a whodunit than your typical gangster film. There are twists-and-turns, characters working to their own mysterious ends and a good old fashioned double-cross for good measure. Most of this is relayed through Grant’s characters flair for the dramatic, his retelling of events are admittedly exaggerated for what he calls ‘cinematic effect’ as the film veers towards meta-narrative, it’s all played off with a knowing wink-and-nudge and brought across by a character so smug and greasy, yet so innately watchable.
There was a point about an hour into the film where I realised I was enjoying it. That is’t to say I didn’t enjoy the first hour, I did, but it creeps up on you in a way. You don’t expect the crucial narrative framework to be as big a part of the films structure as it is; but you’ll be glad it’s there. The dialogue clicks elegantly into place, despite its inelegant tones, the characters are genuinely fun, and the film as a whole balances its more comedic tones and its serious ones extremely well, there’s a sense of stakes at play, but we never lose sight of the fun elements at the story’s heart.
The film is, in short, a great time. Whereas a return to this subject matter could have felt played-out and stale for Mr Richie, he somehow breathes life into it once more, balancing the funny and the gritty with upmost care and precision. Despite it perhaps being a touch long and flabby, The Gentlemen is a masterfully-crafted, and enjoyable, experience; with excellent characters and performances, and creative framing that seals the deal. The Gentlemen is, simply, a blast.