In 2019, Guy Ritchie’s live action Disney adaptation of Aladdin was released. It is a film with no discernible trace of Ritchie’s authorial stamp. He follows Aladdin up with The Gentlemen, a film that is so readily a return to Ritchie’s crime film origins that it almost appears as a parody.
The film is framed by a somewhat fidgety, gift of gab private eye named Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has taken the story he is about to tell and adapted it into a screenplay, which he hopes to sell to the man who hired him for a hefty price. That man is Ray (Charlie Hunnam), who plays the guy Friday to a wealthy owner of an illicit marijuana operation (Matthew McConaughey). And the story Fletcher has is, in large measure, just telling Ray’s story back to him, as it concerns the many characters involved with the selling of his boss’s drug trade.
It is a story with enough intrigue, certainly. And in certain sequences Ritchie puts some energy behind that intrigue—there are two particularly noteworthy sequences, one involving a group of boxer thieves and the other involving a foot chase to recover a cell phone. Taken as a whole, though, The Gentlemen is a rather stagnant exercise. The dialogue pops with energy, but the substance of this speech does not live up to that energy. And the characters who speak them seem so delighted to be flat stereotypes that they smirk with every cliche that springs from their mouths.
Some of the actors make these cliches sing better than others. Grant, specifically, does an admirable job considering his entire role is to be an unneeded narrator. Colin Farrell, too, is doing something rather compelling. But on the flip side, McConaughey is saddled with thankless cool-guy dialogue, dialogue like the repeated analogy of lions to kings. The limp nature of these lines is numbing. And Jeremy Strong is doing something, although I cannot confidently say what he is doing is good.
Ultimately, The Gentlemen is a somewhat dull exercise in watching a story run out of steam. Ritchie gives us his usual dynamic style in the introduction to this ensemble, but once the plot begins in earnest there isn’t much to say. The few sequences that are effective keep the film from bottoming out, but the story continues trudging along, even after the film has reached an organic climax. What comes from this is a scattered and unsatisfying resolution to what is already a hampered and less-than-satisfying story.
The Gentlemen: C+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)