Following a weekend that featured the Academy Awards’ annual look back, it’s refreshing to dive into films that represent the year ahead. And in the wake of the seeming mass hysteria over Parasite, a sleeper like The Gentlemen is especially enjoyable. I won’t compare the two films other than to say that I like the latter much better. But I doubt that it will be nominated for any awards next year.
It’s always nice to have no expectations walking into a theater. Our choices are so frequently made based on “what’s playing at 7pm” that we tend to see movies less hyped and of shorter shelf life. Seeing two or three movies per week, we get tired of trailers we view over and over again. Not so with The Gentlemen. It crept onto our local theater’s screen seemingly without warning, or maybe teased with a poster or two in the lobby.
Matthew McConaughey along with his legendary good looks, rumored body odor and smarmy, self-absorbed Lincoln auto commercials is not a draw for me. But he perfectly suits this film as Mickey Pearson, a charming American ex-pat who has built an undetectable marijuana production empire under the expansive grounds of a dozen British royal properties. While the royals sit sipping tea and parenting monstrously over-privileged heirs, they benefit from the proceeds of a business literally beneath their feet that Mickey is trying to unload for 400 million pounds. It’s a cozy, symbiotic relationship, one that attracts the attention of other “gentlemen” of business and their gangster support systems, but one from which he wishes to retire.
The story is intriguingly unfolded as a pitch for a movie script by Hugh Grant as “Fletcher,” a backstabbing dandy who flirts with his primary mark Ray, played by Charlie Hunnam. Throughout the film, Fletcher strings Ray along with irresistible tidbits, photos and back stories that culminate in a sophisticated blackmailing scheme. Fletcher has been doing his homework, less like a journalist than a desperate gentleman wannabe. But Ray is devoted to Mickey, and ultimately it is loyalty, not connections, that rules the day.
The plot is initially difficult to follow. All of the main characters have nicknames, and their relationships are revealed at points of intersecting evil deeds. Even Pearson’s wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) runs an all girl exotic auto emporium and machine shop. And she turns out to be the one thing in Pearson’s ice-for-blood world that causes him to come unglued. Until then, his antisocial ruminations remain his controlled inner fantasies, while frequent self-narration stills his darkest waters.
The cast is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, but with a smattering of panache. Familiar faces, like Henry Golding as “Dry Eye,” upstart of the Asian enterprise; Colin Farrell as “Coach,” trying hard to raise a gang of street fighters to do good, despite their occasional need to lapse into evil; and the utterly creepy Jeremy Strong as “Matthew” who thinks he has it all figured out.
Guy Ritchie, who has two sons with Madonna and never attended film school, wrote and directed this intellectually challenging whodunit, or perhaps better expressed, who-done-what? Coming on the heels of Disney’s Aladdin last year, he appears to have stored up a warehouse of violence and profanity, particularly the “C” word, so popular with British “gentlemen.”
The Gentlemen is categorized as action/comedy. The comedy is very, very dark, the kind that makes you feel somewhat ashamed for laughing, but also provides needed relief in a relentlessly sinister journey that loops back on itself in unexpected ways. It’s unlikely that anyone could effectively spoil this film for you with one or two revelations, but see it soon just in case.
The Gentlemen (2020) runs 1 hour, 53 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?