‘I’ ON CULTURE
Watching Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen can give a feeling of déjà vu. He’s done quite a few similar ones featuring gangsters beating each other up, but always with a great sense of style. The style is the important thing. Plots tend to be similar, but if you have great characters portrayed by excellent actors and a lot of action peppered with some good wise cracks, audiences will probably enjoy the movie. And this movie fits that bill perfectly.
Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is a once-poor American expatriate living the high life in England. He is the master of a group that provides an enormous amount of high-quality marijuana to the public. While doing that, he plays the part of a British “gentleman,” going to fancy parties with his gorgeous wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), who runs a posh female-dominated auto repair shop. Problems begin when Mickey decides he wants to sell his whole business and retire to the full life of the British upper classes, in essence doing nothing much at all.
There are several potential buyers. First is American billionaire Matthew (Jeremy Strong), often called a “Jewish cowboy.” A bit taken aback by the 400 million pound price, he gets to see one of the special growing areas that Mickey uses. The second suitor is a Chinese gangster called Dry Eye (Henry Golding), who also wants a chance to buy the whole setup. And, surprise, neither of the men wants to pay the full price, so they go after Mickey’s system.
We learn much about this from a sort of narrator, a sleazy tabloid reporter named Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who comes to the flat of Ray (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s rather precise although very violent lieutenant, with a proposed screenplay about the whole thing, which he offers to sell for 20 million pounds. If not purchased, he will give it to his boss Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) for publication in his tabloid.
Many strange events take place, many with twists. My favorite is a raid on one of Mickey’s growing places by a group of kids who turn the whole thing into a karate raid/rap video. Their leader is Coach (Colin Farrell), who teaches them boxing, or a facsimile thereof. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of blood, often splashing all over the actors.
Ritchie often descends to stereotypes in his work. Dry Eye is a bit too over the top in gestures, there is no reason at all for Matthew to be Jewish, and the kids who get involved are wildly stereotypical ghetto.
At any rate, the acting is what really keeps things fun. McConaughey is very good as the protagonist. Watching him move from suave to ferocious is a treat. Hunnam, in what could be a really tricky role because he is often so steady, manages to get several really effective scenes where he can erupt. Grant is really good. Not cast as the leading man type for the film, he is scruffy, nasty and corrupt. And often funny. Dockery is both stunning and really strong in a character quite different from the one she plays in Downton Abbey. Farrell really stands out as perhaps the one truly honorable person in the middle of all of this, although his character clearly demonstrates an enormous capacity for violence even while he decries the need for it.
But it is style which sets the film off. Ritchie seems never able to ignore a chance for a bit of blood splashing, a machine gun firing or a nice session of cursing. But he brilliantly depicts (and, granted, it is a depiction based on his own feelings) the downside of his country’s culture. The rich are corrupt. They allow the growing of marijuana on their property, and their children are addicts. Aside from Coach, everyone else is a sleaze.
But the film is fun. This is one of those movies that the audience likes a lot more than the critics because it is a form of dirty pleasure. We shouldn’t like to see people getting beaten up, but when it’s done with style, all can be forgiven.
If you like this type of film, go see it.