**_Nothing too unexpected here, but it's funny and hugely entertaining_**
>_You don't crucify people! Not on Good Friday!_
- Harold Shand; _The Long Good Friday_ (1980)
The Gentlemen is a return to the London gangster milieu where writer/director Guy Ritchie first made his name with films such as _Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels_ (1998) and _snatch._ (2000). His first foray into this territory since the disappointing _RocknRolla_ (2008), _The Gentlemen_ comes at the end of over a decade making big-budget studio-backed crimes against cinema such as _Sherlock Holmes_ (2009), _Sherlo__ck Holmes: A Game of Shadows_ (2011), _The Man from U.N.C.L.E_. (2015), _King Arthur: Legend of the Sword_ (2017), and _Aladdin_ (2019). Granted, the film seems stuck in the last decade in more ways than one, it's highly questionable that the only gay character is a slimy man-whore into S&M, its token female character barely even manages to rise to the level of tokenism, and Ritchie does absolutely nothing new here – if you've seen _Lock, Stock_ or _snatch._, you'll know pretty much exactly what to expect – but _The Gentlemen_ is still hugely entertaining. Most of the jokes land, the dialogue is as sharp and expletive-laden as ever, the cast are having a ball, and the self-reflexivity, although a little forced in places, works well for the most part. And yes, the plot is as derivative as it gets, but there's no denying Ritchie has injected real verve into what looks on paper like an inconsequential C-movie. _The Gentlemen_ definitely won't change your life, but it will make you laugh.
The film begins as sleazy private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant) arrives unannounced at the home of Ray (Charlie Hunnam), right-hand man to Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a suave Oxford-educated American ex-pat who controls a huge marijuana empire in London, valued at around £400 million. Several months prior, Fletcher was hired by tabloid editor Big Dave (the great Eddie Marsen) to dig up dirt on Pearson with the aim to ruin him – Dave's revenge for Pearson blanking him at a gala. Fletcher has written a screenplay based on his investigation (titled _Bush_) and tells Ray that unless Pearson pays him £20 million, he will hand over everything he has to Dave. Meanwhile, Pearson has decided to sell his whole operation, but when word gets out, all hell breaks loose, as the various interested parties vie for advantage. Most of the subsequent film takes the form of Fletcher narrating his exploits to Ray, explaining how he learned so much about Pearson and what he does. Along the way, we meet characters such as Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), Pearson's ruthless and unflappable "_cockney Cleopatra_" wife, who runs a garage with an all-female staff; Berger (Jeremy Strong), Pearson's preferred buyer; Dry Eye (Henry Golding), the ambitious but brutal scion of a Chinese syndicate, who hopes to undermine Berger; Coach (a scene-stealing Colin Farrell), who runs a boxing gym for troubled youths and who inadvertently finds himself in the middle of everything; a plethora of property-rich-but-cash-poor landed gentry who are essential to Pearson's empire; a Russian oligarch; and a street gang called The Toddlers.
Aesthetically, _The Gentlemen_ is very much in the mould of Ritchie's previous gangster movies. Because Fletcher frames his narration as a screenplay, it allows Ritchie to employ a multitude of self-reflexive devices – a smash cut coinciding with Fletcher asking Ray to visualise a smash cut; voiceover transitioning into spoken dialogue; on-screen captions telling us who's who; animated maps; YouTube fight porn (don't ask); freeze-frames; rewinds; a shot of film running through a projector etc. At one point, Fletcher is discussing the merits of anamorphic (2.39:1) over 1.78:1, and the film's aspect ratio changes accordingly. At another, he's arguing for the merits of 35mm celluloid over digital, saying he likes the grain of celluloid photography, and the film duly switches formats. Such playfulness means that it never for a second takes itself too seriously, with probably the most self-reflexive moment coming towards the end, when we visit Miramax's offices in London (Miramax produced the movie), and we see a poster for Ritchie's _The Man From U.N.C.L.E._. All of this is immensely fun, with the more you know about the mechanics of assembling a film, the more humorously
self-reflexive the film becomes – Fletcher even acknowledges his own role as an unreliable narrator, and a discussion of the importance of sound leads to his dismissal of Francis Ford Coppola's _The Conversation_ (1974) as "_a bit boring._"
In terms of themes, the most obvious is something Ritchie has examined before – the idea that the economic divide between gangsters and aristocrats masks their practical similarities. Pearson straddles this divide; he's a gangster, but so too is he an aristocrat (in all but name), and the smooth running of his business depends on both classes – the aristocrats who he needs to grow his product (for reasons that constitute a bit of a spoiler, so I'm not going to get into it) and the gangsters who distribute that product. The clash between the pompous insularity of the English upper class and the perceived uncouthness of the lower class has been done to death in both literature (Emily Brontë's _Wuthering Heights_ (1847) springs to mind) and film (Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's _Performance_ (1970), for example), and although Ritchie doesn't say anything even remotely new about it, it still forms an interesting textural background – gentrification is ever present; there are ironic references to the posh areas of Croydon; Ray, a working-class Newcastle native, is a cleanliness freak who eats wagyu steak and lives in a mansion, and when he's dispatched on a mission to an uncivilised working-class area, he explains he "_just hates them junkies_," seeing them as very much his social inferiors.
One of the most central scenes sees a group of obnoxious privileged teens holed up in a council flat, whilst on the street below, a gang of machete-wielding delinquents terrorise the neighbourhood. As Ray and his men clash with the gang, there's a real sense of old vs. new – traditional gangsters fighting it out with internet-savvy hoodlums who don't give a damn about tradition or respect. There are a lot of laughs to be had with these issues, such as Ray and Coach having problems pronouncing the name Phuc, or Coach debating with one of his boxers whether it's racist to call someone "_a black c**t_", even though they are black and they are a c**t. And again, none of this is presented as even remotely serious.
The biggest problems with the film are probably its lack of depth, and the familiarity of the presentation, characters, and _milieu_ – there's nothing here you haven't seen in previous Ritchie films. And as you would expect, there isn't much in the way of emotional maturity or narrative complexity. It's all very surface-level, and it makes no apologies for such.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed _The Gentlemen_. It's a funny as hell caper and the actors are clearly having terrific fun. It might be formulaic and overly familiar, but it's also immensely enjoyable.