The Gentlemen review – Hugh Grant elevates a middling crime caper

Guy Ritchie's latest film is an entertaining but ultimately disposable riff on the movies that launched his career

“It is cinema, Ray… beautiful, beautiful cinema,” says Hugh Grant’s shifty tabloid reporter, Fletcher, early on in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen. He’s referring to a spec script for a film he himself has written – coincidentally it’s the one we, the audience, also happen to be watching play out in one of Ritchie’s cloying attempts to make his story “meta.” The Gentlemen might well be cinema, in the sense that it will play in cinemas across the country, but beautiful? That’ll depend on your definition of the word.

Despite being responsible for mostly terrible films (Aladdin) and terrible films that were also giant flops (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur), Guy Ritchie has somehow maintained a place at the top of the heap as one of Hollywood’s go-to blockbuster filmmakers. Sensing, perhaps, that his genre experiments aren’t quite working out, he has looked backwards at the British crime capers that made him a household name and asked, “What if Snatch, but more budget?” This to say, if you have seen Snatch, or Lock, Stock, or the godawful mess that is RocknRolla, then you have also seen The Gentlemen, a film whose vague title suggests it was named by an ambient committee just a few weeks before release.

The plot here involves one Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an American drug lord whose plan to sell off his UK-based marijuana empire triggers a violent bidding war between an array of rich people, gang members, and general low-lifes, played here by Charlie Hunnam, Jeremy Strong, Henry Golding, and Colin Farrell. Ritchie, yet again, finds himself channeling the non-linear works of Quentin Tarantino, peppering The Gentlemen with an endless barrage of visual nods, lengthy dialogue scenes, and instances of sudden violence, framing his film as a story-within-a-story that is always far less clever than it thinks it is.

It’s surprisingly entertaining in parts, if only because the all-star cast have been given license to go nuts, and the pace moves so quickly that there’s barely any time to question the dodgy plot mechanics. Some of the dialogue is also genuinely witty and inventive, though occasional moments of casual racism sour the experience somewhat and make the film feel dated. The finished product doesn’t come close to the giddy and slick confidence of Snatch, nor does it possess that film’s overall sense of cohesion; you can always feel Ritchie hovering behind the camera, wondering whether he’s going to get away with it. He just about manages, mostly thanks to Hugh Grant’s scenery-chewing performance as verminous wretch Fletcher, a part that once again confirms the former rom-com star’s transformation into one of our most entertaining character actors.

It is faint praise, perhaps, to suggest this is the filmmaker’s best movie since Snatch, but Ritchie fans (do such people actually exist?) will be sure to lap up the film’s relentless and casual deployment of the C-word, and the breezy ideals practiced by McConaughey’s drug lord with a heart of gold. The rest of us, attention spans briefly diverted, will forget The Gentlemen in an instant, of course. It will remain notable, however, as yet another film stolen by Hugh Grant during this glorious period we shall one day look back upon and dub “the Grantaissence.”

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