Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is a man looking for a way out. A former Rhodes Scholar now settled in the UK, Mickey has built an unrivalled cannabis empire, worth around £400 million. Married to Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) – a successful businesswoman in her own right – Mickey is seeking to cash out and retire. While deep in talks to sell to businessman Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), Mickey’s empire also attracts a rival bid from Dry Eye (Henry Golding), a violent smuggler whose reputation precedes him.
Meanwhile our story is being recounted by Fletcher (an hilarious, camp, weasily turn from Hugh Grant) to Mickey’s associate/second in command Raymond (Charlie Hunnam). Fletcher is asking for £20 million in hush money, slowly revealing to us the sequence of events that leads him to believe Mickey will be happy to pay money to have his secrets kept. Fletcher’s mud-raking has been undertaken at the behest of Mike (Eddie Marsan), a Fleet Street editor still smarting over being blanked by Mickey at a social event, after a series of unflattering headlines. The Gentlemen takes us through a story of cross and double-cross, as several nefarious characters fight for control of a massive drugs empire.
Ten minutes after walking out of The Gentlemen it seemed to be the best Guy Ritchie film in years; an hilarious, beautifully constructed work, driven by outstanding performances. A couple of days on, almost everything about it had been forgotten. It is a lightweight caper, enjoyable in the moment, but almost instantly forgettable. The key point there is that most will enjoy their viewing of this film. Hugh Grant’s Fletcher makes for an extremely enjoyable narrator, frequently taking the viewer down blind alleys as his boredom and/or missing details in his story leads to random flights of fancy, followed by corrections and clarifications. Occasionally he breaks off to request food, make comment on parts of the house, or even to make a pass at Raymond. Hunnam’s Raymond is somewhat inscrutable; keeping his thoughts largely to himself, and proving a terrific and reliable confidant to Mickey in the main story.
All of this is very entertaining. Dialogue is inventively profane – as we’d expect from a Ritchie film – though there are a couple of lines misjudged enough to be somewhat racially insensitive. Characters are larger than life, and essayed with enthusiasm: it looks like the cast genuinely enjoyed making this. McConaughey is truly A-list, with the film coming alive when he is on screen. Dockery expertly walks the fine line between realistic persona and stock gangster’s moll. The plot twists and turns in ways the viewer will be able to follow without it being likely that they will get ahead of the writing. Reveals are always a surprise, and we are kept guessing as to where everything going. The framing device of blackmail – with no immediate indication of the reasoning behind such behaviour – is smart, and engaging.
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The problem is that little of this really sticks at all. Hugh Grant’s Fletcher is the sole character to stay in the mind a couple of days after walking out of the film. Scene to scene, The Gentlemen is very funny, keeps the audience guessing, and is shot with real verve and imagination. Ritchie balances a real sense of peril for our leads, without that threat undermining the light tone and comedic sensibility. In the moment, this is deeply enjoyable. As such, as an experience, The Gentlemen is recommended; just don’t expect much of it to stick in the mind for very long afterwards.