The preview above gives a general idea of the story in this movie: Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American-raised marijuana magnate who has connived with members of England’s landed gentry to conceal his very profitable growing and packaging operations and now wants to sell his business.
The first problem is that the potential buyer, Jeremy Strong (Matthew Berger,) a skeezy billionaire, is dickering about the price. The second problem is that another bidder, Dry Eye (Henry Golding,) the nephew of an opium magnate, has dropped in from Asia and presents other challenges.
From there, the complications multiply in various directions. This is not surprising in a film co-written and directed by Guy Ritchie, who made his reputation with 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which also had a gleeful cacophony of complications. When watching such a movie, the viewer is constantly thinking, “Wait — what?” The only thing for it is to be patient, pay attention and see what happens. I’m pretty sure that all the loose ends are tied up neatly by the end of The Gentlemen, but I’d have to see it again and take copious notes to be sure. It’s that kind of movie.
Along the way are many entertaining elements.
One is the presence of an older, scruffier Hugh Grant in perhaps his best role ever. He plays a seedy opportunist named Fletcher who has figured out and photographed many elements of the Pearson’s operation, its sale and its nuances. From this material Fletcher has written a “screenplay” that he offers to sell to Pearson’s head lieutenant, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam.) What Fletcher really wants is a scant £20 million in extortion money.
Another element is the free-lance backup of a crew headed by Coach (Colin Ferrell, also seen in a new light), who runs a boxing gym. His black and white thugs dress in plaid track suits and show up when needed as enforcers. The group always delivers.
Third is the dialogue. The characters are not real gentlemen, of course, but they speak in complete sentences, and even paragraphs — all of them. This is not common in gangster movies or, I assume, in gangster life, but seems more to be a signaling conceit (don’t take this too seriously) from the script’s writers.
Since the movie is about a bunch of violent criminals, there is coarse language, of course. Perhaps most notably, the term “cunt” has transitioned into an oft-used male insult, as in when Dry Eye is called a “deluded, duck-eating cunt.” And, yes, that does sound culturally insensitive, which may be beside the point given the behavior of Dry Eye and the other characters. These are not politically woke characters.
There are so many elements in this possibly overplotted tableau that it is easy to forget details, one of which is the near absence of female characters. True, the American marijuana magnate is fiercely devoted to his wife, Roz, (Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame, apparently) who looks like a tough gal but really has not much to do. The only other woman is the addicted daughter of a member of the landed gentry, who seems to have got mixed up with some grubby characters, including, of course, the son of a Russian oligarch.
And, again, there is violence — creative chase scenes and attacks and executions with guns and other implements — but also humor. If British law enforcement has a branch that pursues felons, well, that group does not make an appearance in this narrative.
The effect is one of a zippy, almost cartoonish story that is a more down-market variant of the James Bond (27th movie due this spring) franchise or the Kingsman one, whose last iteration was released in 2017.
The American version of this sort of devil-may-care genre is the heist movie. One famous one, Oceans 11, was released in 1960, then again in 2001 and followed by two sequels and by Oceans 8, a female version, in 2018. Recent American movies in the same vein include 2017’s Logan Lucky but, also that year, the much less upbeat Baby Driver.
One fashion note: With only a few exceptions, all the male gentlemen in this film have beards, from Pearson’s frizzy goatee to Raymond’s full and well-trimmed beard. We know that Gen Y and millennials have been taking to mustaches again. Could it be that chin hair isn’t just for retired guys anymore? Could facial hair be the new English equivalent of neck tattoos?