“It’s cinema and it’s gorgeous,” are a few of the first words uttered by Hugh Grant’s character, Fletcher, in this slick, meta-fictive gangster flick, and no truer words have been said by a cinematic character since the turn of the millennium.
The Gentlemen starts out with England’s puff business boss Mickey Pearson sitting down at his neighborhood pub for a pickled egg and a pint as he calls his wife on the phone to make dinner plans. Pearson is a transplanted American, played masterfully by Matthew McConaughey, and not once did I think of buying a Lincoln during his performance. At the end of the scene, the trigger is pulled for suspense, blood covers Pearson’s pint glass, and the viewer is immersed in Fletcher’s plot to blackmail Pearson’s gang into paying him 20 million pounds. The premise of the blackmail is the release of photographs and a feature film script based on the reality of Mickey Pearson’s marijuana business, including all the recent casualties involved, which would be released to Fletcher’s newspaper editor. This sets the stage for a weaving of subplots between past and present, full of cinematic nuance.
Alan Stewart’s cinematography is immaculate, from the early close-ups back and forth between Fletcher and Pearson’s consigliere Ray, played by Charlie Hunnam, to the nods to fight porn and generation Z YouTube celebrities, all of which were cut together by editor James Herbert with a maestro’s attention to pacing that played perfect dance partner to Christopher Benstead’s score. Gemma Jackson and Sarah Whittle’s sets capture both opulence and squalor without any sense of the contrived or overly intentional, and Michael Wilkinson’s bespoke cashmere suits look lux on Matthew McConaughey while his custom tracksuits embody the character of come-up-from-the-gutter boxing trainer Coach, played by Colin Farrell.
Tying together all the great performers and craftspeople is one common thread, Guy Ritchie, whose direction has given the viewer a cast of characters whose relationships come off as both authentic yet self-aware, suspending disbelief entirely amidst the flares of caricature that the genre demands.
The only thing perhaps better than Ritchie’s direction is his screenplay. Comprised of two main narratives that shift stylishly between past and present until they arrive at a climax in the present, the entire story hinges on the fact that Fletcher intends it to be a movie. These narratives are supported by a handful of subplots, each as necessary as the characters that bring them to life. Every word and every character drives the story forward, as they should. And one of the great things about each of the plots is that everything is so British, even if the main gangster isn’t. From aristocratic landowners being on the dole for leasing their properties to marijuana farms, to the tabloids’ obsession with exposing the underbelly of Britain’s upper class. The cars are British, the clothes are British, and so is the cultural obsession with calling every man in the picture a cunt.