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With the ‘The Gentlemen’ Guy Ritchie returns to his roots

When Guy Ritchie burst onto the scene 20 years ago, the British writer/director did so with a smart, funny, violent and profane gangster comedy, “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.”

He followed that up with the very similar “Snatch,” and then branched out to make very varied fare, from “King Arthur” to “Sherlock Holmes” and “Aladdin.” With his latest, “The Gentlemen,” Ritchie returns to his roots, and it’s a welcome return. It’s gleefully vulgar and violent and full of pitch-black humor. The top-notch cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, and Michelle Dockery.

The initial set-up for “The Gentlemen” involves an investigative reporter (Grant) who’s written a movie script that threatens to expose a major illegal marijuana operation in London. He’s hoping to blackmail the drug lords into paying him a fortune to keep it from getting made:

“I want you to play a game with me, Ray.”
“I don’t want to play a game.”
“Oh please.”
“No.”
“I said play a game with me Raymond. I want you to imagine a character — your boss Mickey Pearson.”
“You’re too smart to be blackmailing us, Fletcher.”

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Matthew McConaughey plays this Mickey Pearson, an American expatriate who’s run this giant operation for years but is now looking to get out:

Weed, bush, skunkamola, white widow super cheese–it’s the new gold rush. This is the thin end of a very fat wedge, sir.”
“If it’s such a fat wedge, why don’t you keep it?”
“See I’ve developed a reputation as a man who came up the hard way. You could say that there’s blood on these pretty white hands, but in the new business, once legal and under the jurisdiction of the respectable umbrella ministerial legitimacy, an enterprise like this will need a face with a clean past, which sadly I do not possess.”  

Once word gets out that Pearson’s on his way out, everyone in the underworld begins vying for his lucrative business, often with deadly consequences.

The cast all play their colorful characters to the hilt, and squeezes every last ounce of humor out of Ritchie’s linguistically rich script. McConaughey is his cocky, laid-back best self. Hugh Grant, as the sleaziest of blackmailers, continues to relish playing against his romantic comedy roots, much as Michelle Dockery leaves Downton Abbey far, far in the rear-view mirror with her stiletto-heeled sexpot who knows how to handle firearms. But it’s Colin Farrell as the boxing coach and inadvertent gangster who’s having the most fun.

“I train lads to be good lads. I’m not a gangster, but I’ve been forced to do some gangster things. His name is Phu-hoc, but it’s spelled with a P-H, so it sounds like ‘Phu-hoc.'”

I’m sure you can imagine the juvenile jokes that follow that name, and indeed they do follow, but the script is smart enough to not belabor the cheap laughs, because it’s quickly moving on to other twisty plot points that set up plenty of other dark surprises and queasy laughs.

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Ritchie may not have improved on his first two movies, but “The Gentlemen” caps off a nice trilogy of black-humor gangster films.

You can find more of Tom’s reviews here.

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