It was nice to finally get to a movie I really enjoyed after starting to weed my way through my backlog, through a variety of things I didn't get around, probably for one good reason or another. While the big budget flash of Rampage and my love of superhero films (plus my personal childhood investment in the mutant franchises) for The New Mutants managed to make those films much more enjoyable than even the well-made nihilistic indie horror films I seem to have an endless supply of, this is a film I had genuinely wanted to see in theaters, but never had the time. Then the pandemic prevented me from ever quite getting around to it for one reason or another.
Even after the long wait, this lived up to my hopes and expectations. I was already a Guy Ritchie fan, going back to before Snatch. Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels was a favorite of mine and Snatch was the bigger-budget brother of that film. Things took a weird turn with Revolver, and then Ritchie wandered off into the realm of big-budget studio films. While the Sherlock Holmes series is enjoyable, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was great and hugely overlooked, and I actually thought King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword was pretty fun despite the universal loathing everyone else seemed to feel, this was the return-to-form I'd been waiting for. His last truly caper-y crime film, RocknRolla, is 12 years in the past. He could have easily trod on, collecting money and directing big movies, but he didn't. I'm not sure if he loves this type of film as much as his fans do, but he dedicates himself entirely to it and has honed the concept to near perfection. It stands as a testament to him as a writer that all of his best movies were films he wrote.
The Gentlemen is probably more in line with RocknRolla in tone than his more comedic early capers like Snatch. This is a much more melancholy movie throughout, though it never crosses the line into Revolver territory. It's not somber, but it is serious. There's no wacky, over-the-top Hatchet Harrys or Bullet-Tooth Tonys; all the characters, even if they have some witty or humorous dialogue, feel much more grounded and real than the broad caricatures of twenty years ago. Not that either style is intrinsically better, but it gives the movie a deeper realism and a sad, dirty undercurrent that I'm not sure any of his crime films have really possessed before.
I remember from listening to the director's commentary on Snatch around two decades ago that the movie originally came in around four hours in length and was slowly whittled down, plotlines completely metamorphosing and being rewritten in the edit. I wonder what was lost in the making of this film. It comes in at just under two hours and feels very light for such a strong cast. Without any data to back it up, it feels like Charlie Hunnam and Hugh Grant get the majority of the screen time. Matthew McConaughey is, of course, the lead and the movie is about him, but it's not being told from his perspective. Michelle Dockery felt somewhat underused, but when I think back along the course of the film, any additions are really just padding out the story. And why not get the best actors you can for every single role? Colin Farrell also gets a fairly minor role in what is, surprisingly, his first outing with Richie.
It is fat-free, absolutely svelte, in its editing. No scene or detail is wasted. And, with a cast full of accomplished actors, it still manages to feel like the best roles they've ever played. While it's easy to enjoy Hugh Grant playing against type by not being a stammering British rom-com character or a period Austen lead, it feels like he's truly enjoying it. He's always seemed exceptionally self-effacing and embarrassed about his popular roles; it feels like he's reveling in playing a scumbag. Colin Farrell, as well, is given a strange sense of gravitas by the straightness of this role. He plays it perfectly well as a character essentially straight out of Snatch, but with no sense of comedy or irony. He is a real human... Though the boxers he's coaching are purely old-school absurd Ritchie.
It has the usual Ritchie twists and turns and fake-outs and resolutions. If anything, it plays a little too quickly and the end comes abruptly, but not without satisfaction. It may not be the quintessential Ritchie film by any standard, but it's one of his most solid, and the performances and plot make it one of the most enjoyable viewing experiences of a dour year. It's well worth it just to watch Charlie Hunnam and Hugh Grant playful go at each other, even if it leaves you wanting more.
Hopefully the next Ritchie crime epic comes much sooner than in 12 years, because the ability to craft enjoyment seemingly effortlessly feels ever more rare.