There’s nothing better than a filmmaker finding his or her cinematic sweet spot—that fertile crescent of creativity where every cylinder fires perfectly and the entire affair has an air of effortlessness. Some directors are tailor-made for certain stories—like Martin Scorsese’s gangster movies, Wes Anderson’s eccentric character ensemble dramedies, or Michael Bay’s insane, cocaine-fueled nightmares.
Guy Ritchie’s cinematic sweet spot is the comedic crime caper. Ever since he unleashed the amazing “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” onto cinemas, Ritchie has excelled in creating Gonzo stories of low-rent gangsters and the endless parade of wild circumstances that unfold when they’re placed within proximity of one another. “Snatch” and “RocknRolla” are both superior, highly re-watchable stories of underworld criminal enterprises composed of equal parts brutal violence and slapstick comedy. “The Gentlemen” is a fine addition to Ritchie’s criminal cinematic arsenal. It’s a bloody good time and features the same ingredients that have made his previous gangster comedies so tasty.
Michael (Matthew McConaughey) is the mastermind behind the UK’s most profitable and well-run marijuana operation. He is connected, with his criminal enterprise ready to be sold to a group of business-savvy billionaires, headed by smart and smarmy Matthew (Jeremy Strong, “Succession”). For the sum of $400 million, Matthew and his associates will get the entire operation, which is primed to be worth even more once legalization finally makes its way across the pond.
Like any business deal between less-than-reputable individuals, there are catches and caveats. A group of Chinese gangsters want to take control of Matthew’s operation and begins making moves against him. The charming, short-tempered “Dry Eye” (Henry Golding) starts flexing on Michael and his associates, most notably the blunt arm of his operation, Ray (Charlie Hunnam). Ray has his own set of problems, including trying to recover the drug-addicted daughter of a wealthy benefactor and tracking down a group of Go-Pro-wearing acrobatic fighters who rob, steal and post their “fight porn” on YouTube. Will Matthew live long enough to sell his criminal enterprise and make a fortune? In other words: Will he be dining on caviar or eating a bullet?
Like Ritchie’s other crime capers, “The Gentlemen” is filled to the brim with oddballs and ne’er-do-wells. McConaughey is pitch-perfect as a polished gangster dealing with a series of rapidly escalating problems that could turn his golden parachute into a noose around his neck. Colin Farrell gets a lion’s share of the laughs as a local gym coach, trying to rein in some of his more ambitious fighters who have a penchant for getting in trouble. Hugh Grant deliciously chews scenery as a private detective, playing every angle as he tries to blackmail people out of money while channeling his experiences into a highly marketable screenplay.
What I loved about “The Gentlemen” is how perfectly Ritchie and his ensemble weave together something raw and ridiculous. Ritchie is second only to Quentin Tarantino when it comes to producing movies that can turn heinous acts of inhumane violence into side-splitting laughter. I’m guessing there are people who won’t be as amused by some of the more excessive bits of brutality, but I was chuckling the entire time. There’s a scene in a Chinese restaurant that will serve as a great litmus test for tolerance and/or appreciation of gross-out humor.
“The Gentlemen” also reinforced my appreciation for highly successful actors willing to have fun with a big, dumb live-action cartoon. I’m a huge fan of artists who can shed some seriousness to make something unapologetic and silly. There’s inherent entertainment value in seeing top-tier talent shedding the black-tie and tux for a track suit and automatic weapons. Matthew McConaughey never has been one to avoid peculiar projects, but in the last year he delivered two really watchable performances in quality “B” movies (the other was 2019’s wonderfully weird “Beach Bum”). These cinematic oddities seem natural to Ritchie—where he cuts loose and lets his freak flag fly.
“The Gentlemen” is a lovely palette cleanser after all the heavy award-caliber films I’ve been watching lately. It’s a raucous, reckless and ridiculous good time.