Director Guy Ritchie’s new film The Gentlemen requires patience before it reaches a mostly satisfying ending. It’s not quite a return to form as far as his British crime films are concerned, though it is still entertaining when it unshackles itself from its contrived plotting. The Gentlemen follows a private investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) as he explains an elaborate story to a man named Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) who works closely with semi-retired-well-suited hustler/drug dealer/notable rich dude Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). He’s trying to buy Raymond for an awful lot of cash, and as insurance he has drafted the story into a screenplay, and threatens to publish it if he doesn’t get paid. Raymond and Mickey Pearson have done something bad while trying to secure a deal, but we won’t learn what right away.
A story of blackmail is relatively straightforward under normal movie circumstances, but this is Guy Ritchie, and there’s quite a lot going on under that simple premise. Fletcher is clearly very sketchy, and tells his tale accordingly, seemingly forgetting that Raymond was in fact living it. Like Snatch, this movie has half-baked heist schemes that end in someone’s brutal death by some indirect (but definitely still manslaughter) method, all fueled by illicit drugs. Grant’s performance as Fletcher is fun, and when his character isn’t rattling off numbers and descriptions, quite engaging.
Through Fletcher’s unwieldy framing, we meet a whole host of characters. Some seem to be derivatives of Ritchie’s own ideas in Snatch, particularly with tracksuit-clad young men who love to box and fight. They’re led by Colin Farrell’s character Coach, who has exactly the right kind of swagger and accent to fit the snappy editing of a Ritchie movie. His boxing club is both a young thug training program and a makeshift film studio. I guess it’s cheaper than university and provides vocational training.
Another major bunch of players include several other kind of legitimate businessmen, all of whom rattle off big numbers as though the cash wouldn’t require some Uncut Gems level trading to obtain. Quite frankly there is an awful lot going on in this movie, but if you can’t keep up, it does get better by the end. The stakes are appropriately high for everyone, even if it does take quite a lot of explanation to get to the climax. The fight sequences pack a bigger punch when Hunnam is onscreen, and he brings the ostensibly cool head but fast temper one expects from a crime film called The Gentlemen.
Something original for Ritchie is the addition of the news as a weapon: Fletcher learned all of this information as the result of a job from the tabloid press, which is notoriously intrusive in the U.K. and a seemingly unstoppable force. His solution is in newer media: when everyone has cameras in their pockets, the story can always be reframed if not suppressed entirely. These moments are far and away the most exciting, and a reminder of everything we enjoyed about Ritchie’s style before.