There are many lies we tell ourselves. The one that impacts audiences the most is, “nothing good comes out in January.” Of course, there is anecdotal evidence people can pull from to support this claim, but it’s largely not true. This doesn’t include limited releases of the prior year’s Oscar contenders, but real, first-run releases. This past January alone, Bad Boys for Life, The Assistant, Adovcate, and Farmageddon dropped, which balances out for each The Turning, Grudge, and Underwater. But the January release that truly surprised this reviewer was the Guy Ritchie crime action-comedy The Gentlemen. With a cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, and Charlie Hunnam, The Gentlemen had all the potential to be an absolute success, but it ended up being a surprise riot. With The Gentlemen, Ritchie returned to a story and style more akin to his cinematic roots and, in the process, broke the wintery doldrums to bits.
After spending his entire life slowing building a crime empire, Michael Pearson (McConaughey) decides he’s ready to retire from the game, but wants to do it on his terms. With the help of his wife Rosalind (Dockery), he lines up wealthy American Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) to purchase Pearson’s entire operation. Things appear to be going smoothly until rival bidder Dry Eye (Golding) gets involved and, suddenly, a series of unfortunate events creates a situation where retirement becomes a case of kill-or-be-killed and business as usual becomes a thing of the past.
For a spoiler-free review of The Gentlemen, head here for the theatrical review.
I am an absolute sucker for a movie about making movies. And that’s exactly what The Gentlemen is. From the moment that Grant’s shifty private investigator Fletcher begins to tell his tale to Hunnam’s Ray, everything the audience observes is through the lens of a storyteller. Fletcher even uses language to indicate the type of film to use, when to apply smash cuts, and other tools utilized by cinema to regale audiences. On the plus side, this allows the whole film to take on a meta-feel, where the act of watching the story is actually a memory or a restructuring of events, simultaneously creating excuses for Ritchie to apply some of his signature gallows humor via editing and timing of dialogue. The negative side is that Fletcher becomes the vessel by which the entire film is filtered. This works wonderfully in a story like The Usual Suspects, but becomes a touch problematic here. I, for one, had no problem with the conversation between Rosalind and Michael regarding Matthew where she tells Michael to “trust this Jew about that Jew.” It addresses race in the usual blunt manner of Ritchie’s characters, where it’s an aspect but not a defining factor (Snatch’s Doug the Jew being an outlier), and it’s done in a manner I’ve heard countless times. However, this is only anecdotal and doesn’t possesses the ability to presume every audience member is ok with it. But then, Ritchie’s gangster films, while frequently charming, aren’t trying to win friends. They are, however, trying to be authentic to the type of people presented. In that, The Gentlemen feels honest in its portrayal of how a sleaze-bag private dick might imagine gangsters to sound, think, and behave.
In addition to capturing the cinematic appeal of a gangster flick, The Gentlemen also has, as per usual for a Ritchie gangster flick, everybody looking cool whether at a high society dinner or chasing a kid around the block. Whatever you felt about Man of Steel, TRON: Legacy, or even 2019’s Aladdin, the cast looked pretty sharp and Michael Wilkinson brings that same magic here. Leaving the theater, I engaged in a lengthy discussion with The Cine-Men co-host Darryl Mansel about how the costume design deserved remembrance come Awards season. Whether there actually is an Award season at the end of 2020 remains to be seen, but just looking at the style represented by each of the groups in The Gentlemen, there’s a clear meticulousness in presenting their singular nature. Michael’s always suited, looking so on point you run the risk of bleeding just by staring. Matthew and Dry Eye, are still stylish yet less formal than Michael. Their look is more contemporary to the period, eschewing suits for complimentary casual wear befitting their relative stations. In contrast, Farrell’s Coach primarily wears a custom track suit, an agile form of comfort wear, which shows off his personal style and enables him to present the kind of person who helps others pick themselves up by their bootstraps while, being ready, as needed, to jump into a scrap.
The delightful thing about home video options is that you can watch and re-watch what you love as much as you like. For many of late, that’s meant new releases like Birds of Prey and Emma., as well as older films like Clue. Each of these screening parties enables the respective audiences to dig into the material, putting them under a microscope to pull out all the juicy bits, perhaps even finding some small detail missed on initial viewings, like writer Leah Schnelbach’s essay exploring Harley Quinn’s broken lip in Birds of Prey, a small detail with gigantic implications thematically. I don’t think anyone’s going to be writing such essays about The Gentlemen, especially given its slightly racist overtones and inclusion of a totally unnecessary, character-reducing instance of attempted rape on the only true female character in the film. I would defend the use of racial epithets in the film, especially since the film seems to be aware of appropriate and inappropriate uses of terms (there’s even a conversation in Coach’s gym about this), as well as the fact that none of the people presented are nice people. The use of this type of denigrating language is code for a despicable person. Liking any of the characters who use it doesn’t mean you agree with the language. That said, even with the storytelling mechanic of Fletcher running Ray through all the events between Michael and Matthew, even Fletcher being presented as morally loose, and even with Fletcher clearly trying to sensationalize the story as he wants something from Ray, there is literally no reason the story needs to include a moment where Rosalind is threatened with rape. The story doesn’t need the moment, the entire scene weakens the otherwise strong Rosalind, and it reduces both Michael and Dry Eye in the process. Rosalind is presented as Michael’s equal the entire film and Dry Eye is violent, but not a monster. In this one scene, Rosalind is reduced to a position, Dry Eye becomes unrepentant, and Michael becomes a raging avenger that’s all played for laughs in the next scene. Reviews should always examine what’s in front and now what we wish, but, the better version of the scene, and the one I imagine is what actually happened, is that Rosalind gets the upper hand on Dry Eye and shoots him before Michael gets there. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
As far as the special features, well, these are a bit of hit-and-miss. If you enjoy the look of the film, then you’ll enjoy digging into the Photo Gallery featuring 30 stills from the production. If you want enjoy some of the best one-liners or comedic moments without watching it whole, then the three-minute sizzle reel titled “Best Gentlemanly Quips” is where you should head. For a film where marijuana is the focal drug of choice, the not-even one-minute reel “Glossary of Cannabis” is nothing more than a highlight sequence of every strain of marijuana (White Widow Super Cheese) or slang (herb) referenced in the film. This is literally flash and no substance as it misses an opportunity to perhaps expound on the slowly growing legal spread of cannabis and there’s nothing attached to inform or engage the audience further. The meatiest of the features is “Behind-the-Scenes of The Gentlemen” in which new fans of The Gentlemen or old fans of Ritchie get a taste of what making the film was like. McConaughey, Golding, Farrell, Hunnam, and others, talk about the process of working with Ritchie, often coming with a script and then throwing it out day one, and how his characters enable them to do something different from their usual work. For instance, Golding had never used the type of coarse language in a film with such venom before and his telling of shooting a specific scene ends with giggles as he remembers how Ritchie picked on him for feeling cathartic from it.
Even with all the things that distract or bother, it’s hard not to forgive The Gentlemen because it’s just so damn charming. It doesn’t hurt that those who deserve their comeuppance also get it, which is the fate reserved for most of the wankers in any Ritchie film, and with the world seemingly falling apart to a generous helping of wankers everywhere you turn, why not try to revel in a little fun? A description which fits The Gentlemen to a “t,” whether it’s your first time or your fifth rewatch, you’re bound to be entertained from start to finish.
The Gentlemen Special Features
- Behind-the-Scenes of The Gentlemen – Get up close with the talented cast of The Gentlemen as they give an inside look at the making of the film and share their experiences working with legendary director Guy Ritchie. (5:50)
- Best Gentlemanly Quips – A selection of some of the funniest lines from The Gentlemen that spotlights the witty writing behind the film. (3:06)
- Glossary of Cannabis – Viewers are given a fun educational montage highlighting the numerous nicknames of Marijuana shown throughout the film. (0:42)
- Photo Gallery (30 slides)
Available on digital beginning March 24th, 2020.
Available on beginning 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD April 21st, 2020.