HomeMovies'The Gentlemen' Review: The Style is the Substance

‘The Gentlemen’ Review: The Style is the Substance

Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam in The Gentlemen
Photo Credit: Christopher Raphael

Last year’s under-appreciated, live-action Aladdin remake notwithstanding, director Guy Ritchie has made a career of crafting stylish capers and whodunnits. Whether it’s gritty gangster pictures like Snatch, the Robert Downey Jr.-starring Sherlock Holmes or the absurdly fun pastiche of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ritchie has used well-trod genre trappings as the thin framework for his studies in swagger — and been accused of being all style and no substance because of it. His latest film, The Gentlemen, for which he also wrote the screenplay, could easily be dismissed as more of the same. And while the film will likely leave some viewers disappointed, it’s perhaps Ritchie’s most cogent display yet that for him, style is substance.

From the moment it starts, The Gentlemen is a study in the joys of artifice. We first meet Charlie Hunnam’s Raymond, a well-dressed man whose controlled movements only emphasize how effective his solid frame would be in a fight. He’s interrupted in his pristine home one night by Hugh Grant’s Fletcher, a fast-talking and flirty tabloid photojournalist who, like the film itself, wants to peddle a story of crime in exchange for money. Included in the deal is a screenplay Fletcher based on the “true” events the film tells and while both Fletcher and Raymond know how they tie into the story, both he Ritchie and Fletcher reveal the details slowly.

Indeed, everything we see flows not as a deliberate chain of cause and effect, but as a tale Fletcher weaves for maximum entertainment value — to the point even we aren’t sure what actually happened. As we watch a scene between Matthew McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson (the film’s de fact hero and the mastermind behind a marijuana empire) and Henry Golding’s Dry Eye (an upstart rival gangster) devolve into extreme violence, Raymond (who was also there) suddenly interrupts, noting that the conversation didn’t actually play out the way Fletcher says. Here and throughout, the film pulls the rug out from under the viewer, each time emphasizing that it’s not the “truth” of the story that matters, but how fun it is to hear it.

As Fletcher says at the beginning of his tale, this is a story meant for cinema – good old 35 mm film no less – and the characters and stars who play them are also big enough for the big screen. McConaughey has never worked with Ritchie before, but his effortless cool and oversized persona fit perfectly into this world. When Mickey gets violent, we buy it. When he struts into a room and flirts with his wife (played by a standout Michelle Dockery), we buy that too. The actor’s onscreen persona alone is enough to make us root for him. The same is true for Grant and Colin Farrell as a low key brawler and even comparative newcomer, Golding is charming and utterly watchable. Each is dandified, beautiful and talks in such affected language that one imagines its what it would sound like if Shakespeare wrote about gangsters.

That said, while the creative storytelling and the characters in it are enjoyable, telling the story in such a convoluted and affected way wears the longer the film goes on and the script so delays revealing the point of Fletcher’s gambit that the movie feels like it ends just as it’s finally begun. It’s not the first whodunnit to fall into the trap of becoming so obsessed with its mystery’s twists and it’s characters’ eccentricities that it fails to give a satisfying ending, but it doesn’t help that the most recent example is Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

Though The Gentlemen is not as clever or subversive as Knives Out, its twisty, talk-y slickness and the way it constantly pulls the rug out from under the audience certainly recall Johnson’s film. And while its bravado promises more than it actually delivers, at least none of the actors come close to doing something as embarrassing as Daniel Craig’s Foghorn Leghorn act. Even if Ritchie’s film doesn’t blow audiences away like Johnson’s did, it’s undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser. It may not be the surprise January delight audiences are hoping for, but even a half decent film can seem great during this time of year.

The Gentlemen opens tomorrow in theaters nationwide.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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