Guns, Gangs & Ganja

Director Guy Ritchie returns with salty, swaggering British-bad-boys comedy crime caper

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Matthew McConaughey & Michelle Dockery star in ‘The Gentlemen.’

The Gentlemen
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery & Colin Farrell
Directed by Guy Ritchie
R
In theaters Jan. 24, 2020

Movie lovers who love gangster flicks will love this British-bad-boys action comedy caper from director Guy Ritchie, returning to the hyper-stylized, street-tough London criminal underworld that kicked off his movie career in Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000).

That was before Ritchie went on to direct such mainstream, family-friendly films as Sherlock Holmes and its 2011 sequel, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and last year’s live-action Disney reboot of Aladdin. He seems to be having a terrific time back on his old stomping grounds, stirring up a salty, swaggering tale of vice and villainy, predators and prey and the fine, shifting lines between gentlemen and gangstas, the thin membrane separating thugs and entrepreneurs.

And he’s working with an all-star cast that certainly looks like they’re having a ball, too. The need for weed drives the story, as a group of characters coalesce around suave Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an American expat who planted the seeds for what would become his eventual marijuana empire when he was a college student at Oxford. Hugh Grant is Fletcher, a private-eye snoop trying to expose Pearson and his illegal operation for the editor of a sleazy tabloid (Eddie Marsan). An aggressively ambitious young enforcer (Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians) for a Chinese drug lord, and a Jewish-American billionaire businessman (Succession’s Jeremy Strong), are competing—and maybe even conspiring—to buy him out.

You’ll probably recognize Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy (he also starred in Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). He gets a lot of screen time as Pearson’s right-hand-man, Raymond, because much of the story unfolds as a “dialogue” between Fletcher and Raymond as the tabloid flack pitches his entire story on the marijuana mogul, framing it as a possible movie—with flashbacks, subtitles, rewinds and suggestions on how it might end.

Michelle Dockery busts out of her buttoned-up, Downton Abbey period-piece properness to play Pearson’s wife, Rosalind, “the Cockney Cleopatra to Mickey’s cowboy Caesar,” as Fletcher puts it. She’s as sharp as her stiletto heels—and just watch how she can turn a desktop “paperweight” into a lethal weapon.

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Henry Golding, Charlie Hunnam, McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Dockery & Hugh Grant

And Colin Farrell rips things into a completely new comedic gear as a dapper, fashion-plate bulldog of a boxing coach who enters Pearson’s orbit to pay off a debt incurred by some of his unruly gym students. And psssst: Don’t ever try to pull a knife on him!

There’s a swirl of menacing Russian oligarchs, slum junkies, street gangs, sexy car mechanics and fight-porn rappers. There are bullets, blood spatters, big guns, little guns and bestiality blackmail (don’t worry, you don’t see it). If you haven’t already figured it out, this movie’s not for kids.

But it’s actually a lot of fun. Ritchie, who also wrote the screenplay, is clearly working in his element and back in his groove, back in “the filth and the grime and the grub in the tub,” as Raymond notes, setting up one particularly grimy, grubby scene that ends up having all the touchstones of a classic Guy Ritchie flick—terse, loaded conversation, explosive action, dark humor, a ripping street chase and gunfire.

The dialogue zings, the action pops; it’s zany and stylish and quick-witted, and often brazenly, gleefully profane and audaciously off-color. If you take out all the, ahem, c-words—which British slang employs quite broadly as terms of disparagement—the movie would probably be about 45 minutes shorter.

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Farrell and Hunnam take a look in the trunk.

And it’s sorta Tarentino-esque, especially in the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, the flashbacks and the cinephile-like salutes to other movies, including a nod to the trunk-POV scenes from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, mentions of Francis Ford Coppola and The Godfather (and his 1974 conspiracy thriller, The Conversation), and even a passing shot of the movie poster of Ritchie’s own The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This is another movie for people who love movies—especially a certain kind of movie.

And this is that kind of movie, a gritty, gonzo gangster-flick parable about alpha dogs, lions, silverback gorillas and law of the jungle on the mean streets of London, where it’s high times for lowlifes, and “gentlemen” can be a relative term.

Based on how The Gentlemen wraps up, looks like a sequel might be possible. Count me in. I wouldn’t want to live there, but Guy Ritchie’s riotously raw ganja-gangland fantasy world sure is a great-escape movie getaway.

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