Published Jan 24, 2020The work of Guy Ritchie has become synonymous with a very specific aesthetic, and like the oversized Snatch and Lock, Stock posters themselves that once adorned dorm rooms around the world, that aesthetic has faded and gotten tattered as people's tastes have developed and most have moved on. Still, he was once so successful that studios — and a dozen or so A-listers — happily signed on to make The Gentlemen.
To be clear, The Gentlemen revels in a near-forgotten brand of masculinity so corny that it feels cliché to make fun of it. It's a film that appears to say "m'lady" to you and discusses how chivalry ain't dead, while also hinting that Steak and Blowjob Day is just around the corner. It's a movie that evokes the forgotten men's wristwatch ad on the back of the magazine that's been in your dentist's office the entire time you've been going. It's the pile of vaguely masculine beauty products, tie clips and moustache combs that create an misshapen pyramid on the "Gifts for Him" table at Winners. It's the ludicrously fitted suit and over-groomed beard that accompanies a caption about rising and grinding on a success-win meme page with fewer than 100 followers. The Gentlemen is a movie for people who still say "I be on that suit and tie shit."
Narratively, The Gentlemen is built around the storytelling of Hugh Grant's Fletcher, a man who cracks so much wise you'll want to smack him around within the first few minutes. He's telling Ray (Charlie Hunnam, looking like he's been dipped in a vat of cologne) that he's figured the whole thing out. What thing, you ask? Oh, strap in my friends. You're in for the ride of your life!
After a scene where Fletcher describes how movies just ain't what they used to be (and, in classic Guy Ritchie style, the movie itself briefly obtains some classic film grain — albeit through shitty CGI), he starts spinning a bespoke yarn just for Ray. It's then that we meet the real hero — Mickey Pearson, a man whose stock character name and well-tailored formalwear could only work with the hard, slithering S-sounds of Matthew McConaughey.
McConaughey's Mickey has beat the system, y'see. He's managed to figure out how to grow weed in the famously hard-to-grow-weed United Kingdom. (They don't ever call it weed, though. Instead, they call it like "super stinky skunk" or something equally disgusting.) All he had to do was convince the UK's house-poor elites to let him use their acreages. Cheeky criminal activity peppered with British social commentary? Yes, please! But here's the clincher… Mickey wants out.
As Mickey tries to sell off his weed biz, we're quickly introduced to a murderer's row of colourful characters. Some of them, like Colin Farrell's better-than-he-should-be Coach, deserve a different movie. But most of them are cartoonishly ridiculous. Henry Golding's Dry Eye is an over-the-top gangster whose hammy existence is equal parts plot exposition and an excuse for other characters to make racist jokes about Chinese people pronouncing English words. Michelle Dockery is almost entirely wasted as Rosalind, Mickey's mechanic wife, who strolls around her metal shop in Louboutin pumps.
And then there's Jeremy Strong's Matthew. Kendall Roy has been a Succession scene stealer, not only because of his character's compelling plight, but also because of Jeremy Strong's masterful ability to lean into absurdity while staying grounded. In The Gentlemen, however, any semblance of control has been Brexited from the performance. This is a character that feels too campy for the 1960s Batman, and yet he's here, revelling in some new form of self-parody while he interacts with all of the other bespoke-suited gents.
It's impossible to determine if Matthew is a good character, or if Jeremy Strong plays him well. He's certain to stand as one of the most ridiculous portrayals of a humanlike creature put on film in 2020. One could almost argue that his existence makes The Gentlemen worthwhile. They could, but they shouldn't.
If you're still reading and still planning to see this movie somehow, I will warn you about a minor spoiler ahead. Somehow, in the midst of the film's denouement, Hugh Grant's character pitches the story he's been telling as a movie to a man that is not Guy Ritchie, but has Guy Ritchie posters up in his office. It's another meta layer that suggests perhaps the real gentlemen were all of us, this whole time. Mr. Ritchie, good sir, you get an A for effort, but perhaps this endeavour could've been groomed a little tidier.