Once known only for his signature British gangster movies, such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and RocknRolla (2008), Guy Ritchie has defied his critics by producing several surprises in recent years.
His two Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law (2009/2011) were well received, and last year’s Aladdin was a revelation that took many viewers by surprise with its deft touch and musical charm, despite controversy about the casting.
DOUBLE CROSSING: There’s mayhem behind the doors of the manor houses in The Gentlemen (image courtesy of Pixabay, with thanks)
This means that his return to his roots feels in many ways like a backwards step. That said, for fans of his earlier work, it is a welcome return to form and familiar territory that ticks all those Lock, Stock boxes that have been neglected for a while.
The plot centres on ex-pat American Matthew McConaughey’s attempts to sell his huge criminal empire to fellow countryman, Jeremy Strong, for $400million.
As you might expect, this does not go anything like as smoothly as he hopes, with various rivals, including the Russians and Henry Golding’s up and coming gangster Dry Eye, all wanting to get a piece of the action.
The result is a double crossing, triple crossing action film that has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek throughout, as unlikely allegiances are formed only to be shot to pieces just a short time later.
What lifts The Gentlemen above the standard British gangster movie cliché is the novel way in which the story is delivered.
Hugh Grant is clearly having a great time acting out his dislike of the press, and in particular tabloid investigative journalists, in his portrayal of the ultra-creepy character of Fletcher.
A man with no integrity whatsoever, he is out to sell what he knows about the deal, and all that orbits around it, to the highest bidder, whether that is Eddie Marsan, his equally sleazy tabloid editor, or McConaughey himself.
PRYING EYE: Hugh Grant has been busy in the bushes gathering evidence against everyone (image courtesy of Pexels, with thanks)
As you would expect from a Guy Ritchie piece, there are many more colourful characters to meet along the way.
The film is packed with typical ‘Ritchie rogues’ like gangland boss, Lord George, who claims his only vice is watching horse racing from Hong Kong.
But it’s clear that, when McConaughey visits him in one stomach churning scene, that he’s not there for the latest racing tips. There’s also ever-loyal right hand man, Ray, played by Ritchie regular, Charlie Hunnam, along with Colin Farrell, slipping easily into the tough but perpetually confused character that he has played everywhere from the East End to the weird world of Yorgos Lanthimos.
Add in a gang of rappers/fighters called The Toddlers and a fine turn from Michelle Dockery as the boss’s wife and you have more than enough interaction and intrigue to keep you amused for a couple of hours.
You may be tempted to check your brain at the door when going to see a Guy Ritchie movie (and let’s face it, it certainly helped with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), but in this case that would be a big mistake.
With so many twists and turns to keep up with, you need to concentrate and keep your wits about you if you are to have any chance of knowing what is going on or who is winning at any given moment.
The momentum seems to be constantly swinging between the various camps and it is not until the very end that you are really sure who will finally prevail.
With a clunky script from the Hellboy school of swearing, which earns the film an 18 certificate, and a high and bloody body count, The Gentlemen is certainly not one for the faint hearted.
It is also casually racist, sexist and many other -ists along the way, which many viewers won’t feel comfortable with. Yet despite all its shortcomings, it is hard not to enjoy this romp of a movie.
As the Jam track that plays over the end titles proudly proclaims, ‘That’s Entertainment’.