Guy Ritchie has always been a stylish filmmaker, something that has brought him versatility and financial success, though not always affection from critics. Despite having made successful blockbusters like the Sherlock Holmes franchise, his first two caper comedies, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), remain his most beloved features. Both are nimble, electric and hilariously clever takes on the gangster genre, in which the storytelling can be just as cool as the bantering characters, and Ritchie’s new film, The Gentlemen, is a return of sorts to his crime genre roots.
The movie follows London’s American-born marijuana kingpin Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) as he tries to sell his operation and leave the drug game, encouraging his rivals to scheme up ways to steal his empire out from under him. Ritchie’s storytelling is typically slick, making this an easy film to enjoy, but The Gentlemen also makes a decidedly weaker impression than its predecessors. Exploring exactly why this is the case makes it easier to see how stylization can be simultaneously a strength and a weakness.
The Gentlemen’s approach to characterization is perhaps where this effect is most visible. Characters in a Ritchie film are eccentric to the point of caricature, and witnessing actors embody these comically exaggerated figures is at least half of the entertainment value. This dares the cast to have fun with their roles, and in the hands of the right performer, a character that could have been boringly one-dimensional verges on iconic status. This new entry adds Hugh Grant’s cocky private investigator Fletcher and Colin Farrell’s delightfully self-possessed boxing mentor Coach to this canon, and as they outshine their costars at every turn, it feels as if it’s more important to admire how skillfully the actors move and speak than to notice what their characters actually do and say.
Of course, with nothing solid to fall back on, subpar performances are woefully exposed, and characters like Jeremy Strong’s effeminate billionaire Matthew Berger become distractingly unconvincing. While the quality of the ensemble was a true strength of Lock, Stock and Snatch, this cast mostly does just enough to remain interesting, holding the film together without ever reaching the heights we know them to be capable of.
Tone, another strength of Ritchie’s early films, also plays a major role in his latest packing a weaker punch. Why a movie feels the way it does to an audience is always difficult to pin down, emerging from a combination of directorial choices, but The Gentlemen undeniably channels the cheeky, darkly comic tone of Ritchie’s other crime comedies. Attempting to stand out by injecting the sophistication implied by its title, however, causes significant stylistic shifts: the gangsters are more competent than bumbling; the pacing is less frenetic; and the humorous moments are interspersed with heavier, dramatic scenes.
These changes are largely ineffective— The Gentlemen lacks the energy and unpredictability that made Lock, Stock so engaging, and any attempt to inject the action with real stakes falls painfully flat. When most of the violence is situationally played for laughs, moments that should inspire genuine emotional reactions, such as an attempted sexual assault, only feel jarring and out of place.
A few standout sequences prove enough to carry the viewing experience, but the whole is nonetheless weakened. The Gentlemen is fun while it lasts, but after you leave the cinema, you’re more likely to want to revisit Ritchie’s originals than ever see it again.
WhatsUpRI Rating: 3 out of 5
WhatsUp Ratings Guide
5- Excellent – Don’t miss it
4- Very Good – Well worth your time
3- Good – Solid, but not earthshattering
2- Fair – Not quite ready for prime time
1- Poor – Don’t waste your time or money