Even though it’s one of those gritty mobster films Guy Ritchie cut his teeth on, “The Gentlemen” often looks like a trunk show of eyewear.
That’s because the actors trot out all sorts of glasses and accents in an attempt to tell the story of a Rhodes scholar who makes his very nice living selling pot in London. Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), one of the only ones who doesn't wear glasses, is eager to get out of the business and isn’t quite sure who to trust, particularly since there are plenty of folks willing to step in.
Among them: his right-hand man (Charlie Hunnam) who pulls us into the story when he’s propositioned by a sleazy investigator (Hugh Grant) who wants to make a movie about Mickey’s wheeling and dealing.
And here’s where Ritchie gets a little too precious. He has Grant narrate when, actually, this could play out without the conceit. The back-and-forth muddies the plot and, at times, makes you care more about the glasses than the men wearing them.
McConaughey ambles through this like he has done so many other films (stretching the idea that he was a Rhodes scholar); Michelle Dockery attempts a new image as his equally cut-throat wife. They’re put into play with Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan and several others as we try to make sense of what Ritchie is trying to say.
Because he’s fond of clever dialogue (far too clever for the characters who spout it), Ritchie often winds up with static scenes that merely let the actors smile because they were able to say the lines. The accents run the gamut (where is Jason Statham when you need him?) and the costumes suggest a period piece, even though the cars don’t.
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Grant – who’s largely ceremonial – is the most interesting of “The Gentlemen.” He affects a Michael Caine stance that works in this case, if only he had more to do.
Farrell, as a friendly boxing coach, bears watching, particularly since he’s putting so much into the performance. Golding just walks through his part and Strong isn’t on long enough make sense of the approach he has chosen in dealing with others.
While Hunnam could easily be seen as the second lead he, too, is robbed of moments that could have added up.
Clearly, this was a chance for good actors to work with Ritchie on something other than the bloated “Aladdin.” Films like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” made him a force in the British industry. This signals a return to that kind of creativity.