The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★

“If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be the king. There can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise.”

Guy Ritchie—to date—has never been synonymous with subtle. Those signing up for “The Gentlemen” will know precisely what to expect: a relatively simple premise surrounding backstabbing criminals jutting off in many directions before the fifteen-minute mark; characters fond of talking, looking tough, sounding tough, pulling out guns, and making vulgar jokes; the casual use of the C-word; money, drugs, power play, and fighting over territories; the occasional self-awareness and fast editing… all of it propelled with energy to spare. Ritchie is no Tarantino, but sometimes a fake Prada bag does the job.

This is not a knock on Ritchie but an observation. I like his approach because he is comfortable with it. (So comfortable that at times I catch myself thinking he is capable of doing much more.) I would even go as far to say he is proud of it. And why shouldn’t he? His name, like Tarantino, is a brand. It’s not a luxury brand but one that serves as a good gateway for more fully realized works of the crime sub-genre. I found this picture to be immensely watchable due to its confidence, populated with character actors who play caricatures but have good fun along the way. And sometimes that’s enough.

A private investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) visits the home of Ray (Charlie Hunnam), the right-hand man of self-made cannabis businessman Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), for a game of extortion. 20 million pounds in exchange for his silence in regards to everything he has discovered about the specifics of Mickey’s business, his personal plans for the near-future, what his rivals are up to, corpses, plans of double-crosses, possibly triple-crosses, and everything else under the sun. Grant plays the swindler with such joie de vivre that in the middle of his cooky performance, I was considered that it is perhaps his most colorful role in years—certainly one that’s most alive. He shares terrific chemistry with Hunnam even though the latter’s approach to his role is more controlled. Fletcher and Ray are fun to watch and listen to because both of them are calculating in their own way.

In a movie like this, it is not at all difficult to answer the central question: Who is the main person responsible for compromising one of Fletcher’s twelve secret underground cannabis laboratories? Focus on this question with unadulterated logic and everything else serves as mere decoration. And yet—this does not mean that the trimmings are unworthy of our interest. On the contrary, for instance, I found Fletcher to be curious, especially in how he wishes to retire from the business he built from the ground up. He is provided no compelling reason to walk away so… why do so? Another: the highly ambitious Dry Eye (Henry Golding) who works for a Chinese gangster. He is one of the two who wishes to buy Fletcher’s business. (The other is an American billionaire played by Jeremy Strong.) Dry Eye does not seem to be interested in the money or the business. This is a man who craves power for power’s sake. And that makes him dangerous.

Is it offensive at times in its depiction of people of color and women? For some, it might be. But it did not offend me considering that the material, I think, is able to establish its own universe whereby its characters talk, act, and behave like people in real life. Not once did I think, a subject is acting a certain way because one is Jewish, or Asian, or gay, or a woman. In other words, I did not feel as though certain character traits stem from a place of malice.

“The Gentleman” zips through one humorous scenario to the next without sacrificing an ounce of vigor. There is enjoyment to be had in watching a swimming pool filled with predators who try to outsmart one another for money, reputation, power, or unique reasons of their own. Who will come out on top? The answer is not always clear. But, in a way, it does not matter because the journey there is littered with fun and wicked surprises.

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