The Gentlemen (2020) Movie Review

I dream of being an actor. It’s definitely weird wanting to both perform in productions and criticize other people’s performances and productions. Maybe one day I should just make up my mind. If I choose the former, I would say my favourite acting roles are characters who don’t fall under typical male stereotypes. If that were written on my agent website page, the casters of this movie would’ve looked right past me instantly.

From the clothes they’re wearing, you’d think this takes place in the 50’s, but it’s actually modern-day. There are cellphones and twenty-inch long camera lenses that play significant parts. Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Pearson, a celebrity in the drug world who began his trade drug dealing on the esteemed campus of Oxford University while he himself was somehow a student there. But this Mickey Pearson, we at first don’t know if he’s real or not, because we first follow Raymond Smith (Charlie Hunnam), a fashionista living by himself in a swanky enough house for us to know he’s smug and up to no good. Or maybe there are people around him who are, like Fletcher (Hugh Grant) who shows up unannounced with some of his whiskey already down his throat. He asks Smith to play a little game with him, discussing this so-called Mickey Pearson and how he’s out to try and retire but needs to sell his business. So what is Fletcher’s deal? Is this game a real circumstance? What is the big deal with this marijuana business? You’ll have to see The Gentlemen to find out.

This is the fourth film I’ve seen from Guy Ritchie. The other three, two I liked, the other really not so much. One of them was a spy thriller, then a historical thriller, and the other was a live-action Disney classic adaptation, so I feel Ritchie tackles all sorts of genres. I also didn’t watch any trailers for The Gentlemen or really look up what I was supposed to expect story-wise. And I did my best to have a positive attitude. After all, sometimes critics end up disliking a movie more because they woke up on the wrong side, and I wanted to have a fully honest reaction. The result? My parents had a blast watching this on the big screen with me. I wish I could’ve joined in on their howling laughter.

From the poster, the impression I had was this title was going to shed irony, because these people looked sleazy and willing to shoot. And I was right. They even wholeheartedly describe themselves as a word that if I said out loud in public I’d be tied to a railroad by dusk. And when we see Raymond interrogate a group of minors living on their own, smoking up a cloud, doing as they please until this guy shamelessly disrupts them, we understand these heroes have been able to live above the law with glee for quite some time.

The movie also bounces back and forth between the discussion of Smith and Fletcher to the circumstances described, which is like the much-more-sobering 1984 film Amadeus. And it’s admirable how non-linear Ritchie is willing to be for this story, asking us to keep up with two simultaneous situations, with a funny fake-out of a killing. Yet at the same time, there was a key element missing from both, and that was something too many hotshot crime films seem to do. I have tried to get used to it and adapt with little luck. The film’s two stories were both missing the “So-what” my journalism teachers said needs to be tackled in a story.

Apparently Pearson wants to sell his marijuana business to settle down with his wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), yet there’s no hint of marital problems nor Rosalind desperately wishing her husband would leave this business. When we first meet Smith and Fletcher, neither of them have any reason for us to sympathize with them. With all the resources both of them have, emphasis on the steaks grilled on the table barbecue, it wasn’t like they were short-funded. It also seemed Pearson was given a chance at a young age of an education most would dream of, and instead turned to drugs cause he found it cooler, or easier, or more violent. So where am I supposed to feel for these people?

My favourite movie of all time is a heist movie, and it’s The Italian Job from 2003. Sure, the protagonists end up trying to steal back gold bars they originally stole anyway from someone else solely for personal gain, but they were betrayed by their inside man who killed their mentor in cold-blood and left the mentor’s daughter fatherless. And they had the likability of a 21st century Bonnie-and-Clyde Barrow gang, especially considering they pay others in the gutter for their help in heists and keep their word.

Now back to this movie. So, even if I were able to get behind the unsympathetic protagonists, there’s some significant logical flaws that also get in the way. There’s a killing that some teenagers witness and capture with their phones, and they run off with guys who want to cover up the event chasing after them, and you’d think, despite seeming a little iffy, that at least one of the teenagers didn’t have a criminal record intimidating enough to decide not to quickly dial 911 with those phones, or take the situation more seriously because they’re being chased for photographing a dead body. You’d also think Rosalind would feel a little more shock at the possibilities when she hears a gunshot over the phone. There was always the chance she believed there’s no way who she was talking to was really shot or else she’d have just been shot too, but it’s never made clear.

That’s not all. There’s a minor female character who makes not one but two choices that are given no context, and it was desperately needed. Two main characters end up in a car accident as they’re racing towards a calamity in one of the only times they truly feel scared, and you’d think the fact that the crash was in the middle of London and the car was kept in the open that there’d be some investigations that would come back for a rude awakening with the criminals. Speaking of which, where are all the authorities during most of these events? A fair amount of the acts of violence take place in daylight, in the middle of the city, with some loud noises here and there. There are too many predictable “I-should’ve-shot-much-sooner” moments and one of its main twists is really not twisty at all.

Now, I might seem like a crabby old man or someone pointing these things out, because I got the impression this movie was just meant to be fun; just meant to be some wretched men hanging out and being sly, and a look into some very successful crime lord millionaires lurking in golden bathtubs. There are some very charismatic actors here. The end involves a hilarious Easter Egg. There’s sometimes chuckle-worthy dialogue, especially between Smith and Fletcher. The movie dares to reveal a character death early and immediately turn us off from the whole feature…and then cleverly fakes us out.

But the whole time watching this movie, I couldn’t help but want all these people to have some teeth knocked out of them, who are so smug you’d think they’ve never heard of a prison sentence before. Maybe that was the point, bringing up the irony of its title again, but it’s a lot harder for me to enjoy a movie when all its “protagonists” are like that, much less have me believe what is going on, and Guy Ritchie wasn’t able to make up for those spites.

If you like this, I would try: Uncut Gems, Joker, The Italian Job from 2003, and the horror film Don’t Breathe

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