After years of making sequels and seemingly studio mandated films that generally received a mixed to negative critical reception and low box office returns, aside from last year’s billion-dollar grossing Aladdin live-action remake of the 1992 classic animated film, Guy Ritchie has finally returned to making original concept films with The Gentlemen. Unfortunately, The Gentlemen isn’t much of an original concept to anyone familiar with his earlier work and lacks compelling characters and even amusing interactions, instead being simply a disappointing tribute to Ritchie’s earlier days when he at least had some sense of style and voice. And for that matter, I was never a huge fan of Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, partly because I often found the stylistic choices to be grating, so an attempt to recreate it with less substance and character work to back it up was never going to impress me.
As is the case with those earlier Guy Ritchie films, The Gentlemen has a plot that is endlessly convoluted and it finds its joys and momentum in allowing it to unfold in increasingly absurd ways. Most of the film consists of Hugh Grant telling Charlie Hunnam a story about the criminal underground in Britain and their various interactions in the fallout of Matthew McConaughey’s plan to sell his lucrative marijuana business to an American. Grant’s character has his own business related reasons for telling the story, which he fancies he can turn into a screenplay, and a flair for the dramatic that turns his story into something unreliable and often he retells sequences when they are questioned by Hunnam. It leads to a few fun cutaways in the beginning, but they increasingly wear thin and by the end they had fully become annoying, especially as, within minutes, it becomes clear that Hunnam’s character was present for the vast majority of the story being told so there was little reason for most of his interactions with Grant to take place.
Aside from Grant and Hunnam’s characters who, though being the most present in the film, were often annoyances and had so little bearing on the actual plot that they could’ve nearly been cut out entirely without any impact, most of the characters were amusing but flat, and most of their actions could be guessed well ahead of time from having seen countless other movies with their character types represented nearly identically. These types of characters have their place of course but generally not as the leading characters in a film, and lifting the portrayals and other characters’ comments about the Asian gang members straight from the more ill-advised portrayals of the 1950s was certainly a poor choice. Rather than really being used to push the story forward, each seemed instead to be created so one or two throwaway lines could be introduced like a character being named Phuc leading to a painfully long exchange about that other word that his name sounds like and McConaughey’s character being a marijuana dealer playing right into a couple jokes that have been made endlessly about the man since he was in Dazed and Confused. Unfortunately, beyond causing most of the characters to be one-note, it made many of the jokes very predictable and, since knowing the punchline before the joke is told doesn’t often help to improve a joke, it often felt forced. That isn’t to say there were never funny moments in the film, the cutaway scenes often had some fun humor and the situations that unfolded were sometimes so ludicrous the only possible reaction was laughter, but the comedic elements it seemed to take more care to set up often elicited a cringe rather than a laugh.
Despite all the aforementioned disappointments, there is still a certain fun to be had in seeing Ritchie return to his roots and obviously have a lot of fun in constructing his needlessly complicated narrative with insufferably uncomplicated players. It’s a style that is his own and refreshing to see after years working in a style that belonged to corporate entities. For those, like me, who have never been Ritchie devotees, I can’t imagine this will be the one to change perceptions of his films, but for anyone who is a fan, it will likely be enjoyable, if not an altogether rewarding experience.