By Will Deans, MA Film & TV
Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey star in Guy Ritchie's all-star return to his formative london gangster flicks, but an offensive and ridiculous plot mean it falls flat early on.
Guy Ritchie’s original gritty ‘guns and cockney’ romps afforded him critical acclaim with the likes of Snatch (2000) and Lock Stock (1998), films so witty and quotable they are now regarded with cult status. Ritchie’s return to this formula with The Gentlemen (2020), however, seem convoluted, archaic and - dare I say - a bit distasteful?
The main plot sees Hugh Grant as Fletcher visiting the mansion of Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) and attempting to blackmail him into 20 million pounds. Raymond’s boss, Mickey Pearson (Matthew MacCounaghey), is in the process of selling his marijuana empire to drug-baron-wannabe Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), and Fletcher’s got the dirt on the deal. Seems simple, right? Well Ritchie decides to have Fletcher reveal his inside information through telling a screenplay he’s written, which, as the whodunnit-style twists and turns unfold becomes an increasingly complicated mess.
As we live out Fletcher’s screenplay, Ritchie reveals a multitude of cringe-inducing characters, not-least of whom are ‘The Coach’s’ (Colin Farrell) team of boxer-cum-vlogger wannabees. These cool, young black folks are here to save the day, in what seems like a painfully transparent attempt for Ritchie to be multi-ethnic in his casting and ‘down with the kids’ in an otherwise prejudice-riddled foray.
For the likes of McConaghey you can’t help but feel that this was like doing a commercial voice-over job for a car insurer
At one point this group are referred to as ‘roadmen’, a moment that’ll leave any viewer squirming in 2020, let alone in years to come. Pearson’s wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) may be best known for Downton Abbey (2010-15), but here heads up a garage of all-female mechanics in another post #MeToo box tick for Ritchie, though this set up is swiftly negated as one employee scuttles off to a spin-class.
There are more prejudiced quips elsewhere, veering into the downright racist in Ritchie’s portrayal of Asian characters - top-villain Dry-Eye (Henry Golding) is even referred to as having a ‘ricence to kill’. I can sympathise with Ritchie’s attempt to be progressive whilst simultaneously sticking two fingers up to the ‘political-correctness-gone-mad’ world we live in. Unfortunately, however, it’s a thin line that Ritchie falls off pretty quickly, and from there he continues to freefall.
Distasteful subject-matter aside, the performances are understandably mediocre from all those involved. For the likes of McConaghey you can’t help but feel that this was like doing a commercial voice-over job for a car insurer; a big old payout for a piece of work so bland it’ll mercifully be forgotten the moment it’s released.
The one redeeming performer, however, is Hugh Grant - surprising considering this odd choice of casting. Though on paper his character is just as two-dimensional as the rest of the troupe, somehow Grant pulls off the slimy and ambiguously homoerotic Fletcher with an affable charm that belies the luridness of his character.
The ‘McConaissance’ is well and truly over, all hail the…’Grant-Believe-He’s-Got-Better’?
By this I don’t mean the spluttering posh ‘oh-gosh’ that we knew of Grant of yesteryear, but a new post-Very English Scandal (2018) Grant who surprises us with his ability to impart genuine humour and depth into a role. The ‘McConaissance’ is well and truly over, all hail the…’Grant-Believe-He’s-Got-Better’? I’ll see myself out.
All in all, The Gentlemen will appeal only to diehard Ritchie fans who will be relieved to see him ditch Disney and return to familiar gangster territory. For the rest of us though, it’s not worth the price of the popcorn. As Dry Eye himself quips, ‘there comes a time when the young succeed the old’ - perhaps it’s time Ritchie took a leaf out of his own screenplay.
Featured - IMDb / Miramax
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