Guy Ritchie seems to have two modes of filmmaking. One is prone to fun, filthy British crime picks like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, for which he gained fame. The other makes big-budget bland blockbusters like King Arthur and Aladdin. After a handful of films in the later model, he returns to his roots with The Gentlemen, a clear throwback to the films that earned himself a filmmaking career.
Even in this mode, Ritchie has had some misfires such as Revolver. However, The Gentlemen has more good than bad in it. I wouldn't quite call it a return to form but there are several moments in his new film that reminded me why I was a big fan of his brand of gangster pictures.
The plot is complicated, as you might expect. Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is the king of London's weed game. He wants to retire. He has a deal set with another American (Jeremy Strong) but once others hear of his plans, they come after his business. Mickey's number two (Charlie Hunnam) is approached by a sleazy paparazzi (Hugh Grant) who thinks he has key information. As anyone familiar with Richie's scripts, the plot twists and turns as everyone double-crosses everyone.
While the plot is frenetic as his early gems, The Gentlemen has a far more subdued style to it. Ritchie used to pride himself on tricky camerawork set to jukebox jams he handpicked. While there is some great music in The Gentlemen, it never marries to the film's editing and camerawork like in those earlier efforts. It is a shame because the film has so moments where a little stylistic flourish would have worked.
What does work here is the supporting cast. McConaughey feels a little out of place with Rtichie's humorous, quick thug dialogue. That kind of works though as he is playing an ex-pat who is a bit out of place in this world. Those around him master Ritchie's script, especially Hugh Grant and Collin Farrell, both who seem to be having a blast here. Grant has been playing devious scoundrels recently, Paddington 2 for example, and it really has opened up his talents. He has a way of being charming and off-putting at once that works well here. Hunham shares most of the scenes with him and does a fine job playing against him. Farrell stands out the most, however. He plays a local boxing coach that gets wrapped up in the plot and is intensely likable in the roll. He brings heart to a small role, elevating a throwaway character to one of the film's most memorable.
The Gentlmen isn't fully successful. The plot twists aren't very interesting. Mickey isn't that relatable of a guy either and thus the film doesn't have anyone to root for, at least until Farrell shows up. However, it does feel like Ritchie is inspired again as a director. He injects the film with his wit for punchy insults and gangster speak. That sense of personal style has been missing from his films for some time and it is good to see it back in action.