02 January 2020 06:32

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  • Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan.

Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan.

Symptomatic is a pivotal performance by Hugh Grant as Fletcher, a sleazy tabloid reporter who serves as a one-man Greek chorus, slyly unfurling the many twists in the plot during an extended interview with Mickey's consigliere, Raymond (a phlegmatic Charlie Hunnam). Fletcher is trying to sell Mickey the information that he's ferreted out from various sources in exchange for an exorbitant amount of money. Otherwise, he'll give the story to his editor, Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) for publication, exposing Mickey and his operation and thwarting his plan to sell up and retire in style. The film is a triumphant return to home base for Ritchie, who's been busy adventuring in more wholesome genres since shaking up the crime movie 20 years ago with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and its follow-up, Snatch. Played by Matthew McConaughey at his most elegant, Mickey Pearson is an American who's been in London long enough to dominate Britain's marijuana trade, forging links with dirty money both old and new.

And there's a joke to be found here, too, for the role has gone to Jeremy Strong, wearing the same poker-faced expression and funny little hat that characterise his performance in the TV series Succession, which is all about the money and politics of the corporate class. With his usual energy, Ritchie ranges from one end of Britain's class structure to the other, taking us from stately homes to housing estates, racecourses, marijuana farms and a youth club. Here, Colin Farrell, in avuncular mode, is trying to rein in a gang of young delinquents whose inventive attitude to law-breaking will eventually prove extremely useful to Mickey. It's baroque plotting but there are plenty of rewards to be had in trying to keep up with it – and Grant proves to be a tirelessly entertaining guide. Like the rest of the cast, he's clearly relishing Ritchie's dialogue, which marries the vernacular of the underworld with a flow of fanciful elaborations on the humour to be found in the English language's digressions and circumlocutions.

It's his wit which energises the film and shapes the characters – with a lot of help from his actors. (as one of his characters might colourfully expostulate), it's now 22 years since Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels blew the bloody doors off the British box office. And, after an undistinguished spell in Hollywood (don't mention that aborted King Arthur series), director Guy Ritchie returns to his roots here doing what he undoubtedly does best — guns'n' geezers and a whole lot of rabbit (ask Chas & Dave). Originally called Bush (though this was presumably a too-near-the-knuckle mimic of his cheekily titled 2000 film Snatch), and then Toff Guys, The Gentlemen is another distinctively English cross-class crime caper featuring a top-line American star. Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey — mercifully not attempting a mockney accent — is Mickey Pearson, a millionaire marijuana dealer who grows his 'bush' on the land of impoverished British aristocrats.

Mickey wants out to spend time with his missus (Downton's Michelle Dockery as the film's token bird), but a Dickensian whirl of forces threaten to unseat his retirement, including Hugh Grant's (pictured) sleazy newshound, Colin Farrell's boxer and a ruthless Chinese gangster (Henry Golding) who, as one character wincingly puts it, has a 'ricense to kill'. Still, The Gentlemen is outrageously entertaining, energetically shot and charismatically acted — Hugh Grant totally nails it. As a love letter to cinema, it's like the Essex version of Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: two auteurs sharing a mix of verbosity and violence. Sometimes tiresome, it hardly breaks new ground for Ritchie, who now loves the c-word. The Gentlemen also stars Charlie Hunnam as Raymond and Hugh Grant as Fletcher AFTER the quick-stepping theatricality of a live-action Aladdin replete with Will Smith's motion-captured genie, Guy Ritchie returns to the crime-riddled streets of London and filmmaking home comforts.

The dodgy geezers and expletive-laden double-dealing of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, which saddled the writer-director as a one-trick pony more than 20 years ago, are enthusiastically rehashed and recycled in The Gentlemen. The budget of this slickly orchestrated caper is bigger than Ritchie's 1998 calling card, including a leading role for Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, but the macho posturing, snappy dialogue and stylistic quirks are disappointingly familiar including a point-of-view shot from inside a car boot. The film opens with McConaughey's dapper protagonist striding into a pub and politely demanding "a pint and a pickled egg," which cajoles the barman to pour a beer from a pump shamelessly adorned with the logo of the Gritchie Brewing Company. Blood starts flowing before the vinegar-saturated bar snack has been consumed and a motley crew of misguided characters have started a lively game of dialogue pass the parcel, tossing profanities back and forth as nouns, verbs and adverbs because swearing is big, clever and achingly cool. He feeds us morsels of his predictable story in fragmented flashbacks, as told by an odious private detective named Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who wants a hefty £20 million pay-off for incriminating photographs and documentation of Mickey Pearson (McConaughey). The American ex-pat has built a lucrative marijuana empire in the capital aided by right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam). Mickey is poised to sell the business to slippery American counterpart, Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), and share the spoils with his straight-shooting wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). Unfortunately, trigger-happy rival Dry Eye (Henry Golding) intends to scupper the deal, lighting a fuse on a bloodthirsty turf war that will make lip-smacking headlines for sleazy tabloid Daily Print edited by Big Dave (Eddie Marsan). Adding fuel to the fire, rap-loving protegees of a local boxing coach (Colin Farrell) unwittingly steal from one of Mickey's farms and record their hare-brained antics on their YouTube channel. The Gentlemen swaggers and growls in ways we have come to expect from Ritchie. Kinks in a predictable plot are clearly telegraphed through self-consciously quickfire dialogue. Some of the cast are poorly served by the script but McConaughey's natural charisma elevates his self-anointed "king of the jungle" and Grant enlivens scenes with impeccable comic timing. Only one potty-mouthed outburst lands a decent laugh – a pithy aside gifted to Downton Abbey star Dockery, who reverts to her native Essex accent to play a ballsy spouse, whose words are almost as sharp as her designer heels. Time's up, The Gentlemen, please. Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan. Director: Guy Ritchie Guy Ritchie enjoyed his greatest commercial success with 2019's live-action fantasy Aladdin, the most atypical project of his career, but The Gentlemen finds him back on his best-known turf as a purveyor of mouthy, ultra-violent geezerism. It's 21 years since his debut hit with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but its shaggy-dog story-telling and spirit of high-wire anarchy resurface intact. In time-honoured fashion, Ritchie has assembled a cast which looks a bit weird on paper but pays handsome dividends. Matthew McConaughey's arrival in Ritchie-land is announced by him striding into the London pub he owns and ordering "a pint and a pickled egg" in his warm Texan burr (Ritchie is course a connoisseur of pub life, and the on-screen house beer is supplied by brewers G Ritchie). As Mickey Pearson, a rough diamond from the American South who won himself a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, McConaughey is pitted against a parodic cross-section of the impoverished English aristocracy, whose hereditary acres furnish Mickey with discreet subterranean locations for his hi-tech cannabis-growing operation (the toffs get a payoff while Mickey builds a new empire). Mickey's wife Rosalind (the "Cockney Cleopatra") is a peach of a role for the ever-improving Michelle Dockery, dispensing stone-faced logic and pitiless business acumen as the chatelaine of the family racket. The story concerns Mickey's desire to sell up his drug operation for a handsome profit and dedicate himself to scaling the upper slopes of the British Establishment, but his murky entanglements come back to bite him. A Chinese criminal consortium, in particular the murderously ambitious Dry Eye (Henry Golding), aims to muscle in on the deal, while his preferred purchaser, American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), looks about as trustworthy as the Venezuelan stock market. Ritchie's notion of hiring Hugh Grant (pictured above) to play the squalid blackmailing hack Fletcher, who aims to sell a portfolio of incriminating material on Mickey to a quaintly old-school tabloid called the Daily Print, was especially rascally. Ritchie ladles on the meta-layers by allowing Fletcher to lay out his plan to extort Pearson like an elaborate film treatment, complete with insider-jokes about "35mm anamorphic", blackout cuts and an aside about Francis Coppola's classic eavesdropping movie, The Conversation. These self-referential larks might begin to grate if the The Gentlemen wasn't adorned with Ritchie's vivid baroque-ney dialogue while storming along like a runaway train. The action scenes are blood-spattered and wincingly physical, yet laced with cartoon-like wit. The demise of a Chinese gangster who tries to escape from Pearson's consigliere Ray (Charlie Hunnam, speaking a mysterious Irish-Geordie patois) by vaulting over a wall, only to land on a railway track just as a train arrives, is more Buster Keaton than Martin Scorsese. It might be argued that The Gentlemen is in effect a Greatest Hits package from Ritchie rather than anything startlingly new, and its remorseless barrage of c-words and assorted ethnic slurs might have been designed to offend those of a woke disposition. It's bloody entertaining, though.