I haven’t had much patience for Guy Ritchie lately. As far as I’ve been concerned, he’s the biggest hack in Hollywood. His Hollywood output since 2009 has been an unrelenting slate of style-over-substance blockbusters and shallow action films like Sherlock Holmes, Man From Uncle, King Arthur and Aladdin. These films tend to make huge and momentary splashes and then fade into obscurity leaving only faint traces of their cultural impact.
These films do have flashes of brilliance of course. Robert Downey Jr.‘s performance as Holmes was a revelation prior to BBC’s Sherlock series. The opening chase scene on Man From Uncle is even some of the most beautiful filmmaking of 2015! Regardless, his Hollywood work permeates with a stink of meaninglessness, flaccid stories and empty spectacle. I know people that genuinely love some of his films but I can’t stand his recent films. I couldn’t tell you anything about his voice as an artist from these films outside of his love for slow motion action, intense color grading and his above average eye for performances.
As such, I wasn’t interested in checking out his new film from earlier this year. Little did I know though that I had missed out on a minor bright spot in 2020’s early months. I was evidently ignorant of one very important fact in Ritchie’s life: I didn’t learn till quite recently that his real claim to fame was his early career as a director of schlocky British gangster films like Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Rock n Rolla and Revolver.
I henceforth apologize as I was five years old on 2000 when he was at this stage of his career and too young to watch R-Rated films. Lil baby Tyler probably wouldn’t have enjoyed Snatch.
His newest film The Gentlemen is a film in that realm. It’s a slick, wordy and stylized crime thriller with a huge cast of stars and a really fun script! Honestly, I’m kind of surprised by how awesome this is! Mind you, it’s no masterpiece. This isn’t Guy Ritchie’s The Godfather. It is however a fun grindhouse gangster flick in the style of an early Tarantino film like Reservoir Dogs. That said, it’s also not as good as Reservoir Dogs.
In some ways I actually kind of dig it’s grindhouse appeal. It’s unpretentious and just wants to guide the viewer on a wordy tour through British criminal society with a group of highly competent and intelligent people conspiring together and trying to backstab one another for money. I almost don’t care about the plot. It’s almost a movie that’s enjoyable just for being a laid back gangster movie about bickering British drug dealers trying to conspire and scam one another out of millions of dollars in weed.
The film follows multiple characters and I can’t relate much about their depth, humanity and individuality at a glance. Matthew McConaughey plays the film’s central character though framed through the lens of two men recollecting his life and career after the fact. We get to learn about his youth, his creation of a massive criminal enterprise preparing for the imminent legalization of weed in Britain, his plans to sell it and the conspiracies of other characters who try to screw him out of one of the largest piles of money in the underworld.
Outside of McConaughey, the film delivers a solid cast of minor criminal characters working in his order for or against him. He’s got some great stars on hand including Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam as well as a solid list of character actors who fill in the background characters amicably.
In a lot of ways, this is definitely a film that works more as a stylistic exercise than a story. I barely followed the convoluted crime story and I don’t necessarily care that I didn’t. The movie never stops feeling slick and fast! I had a cozy evening watching the film in a low intensity movie watching session and enjoyed just grooving on the film’s dialog and performances. Even though it’s not as dramatically focused as a similar crime film like Reservoir Dogs or Hell or High Water, it holds itself up amicably with it’s stylization which really goes a long way to making the film fun to watch!
In a year like 2020 where the largest film releases before the COVID lockdowns were big corporate franchise films like Bad Boys for Life, Birds of Prey and Sonic the Hedgehog, I couldn’t help but appreciate a film like The Gentlemen a little bit more in hindsight. Even coming from a director I don’t really respect, this film really caught my attention for it’s sense of bravado and energy. This is Guy Ritchie working in his element! Mean and lean Guy Ritchie is so much more fun than corporate cash cow Guy Ritchie!
I’ll take three more low budget Guy Ritchie British crime thrillers with a side to go please! Lets get Netflix in on this!