‘The Gentlemen’ – Guy Ritchie’s Return To Top Form (DVD REVIEW)

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Given his output over the last decade, with Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, and Aladdin, it’s easy to forget that Guy Ritchie came up in the film game in the post-Tarantino resurgence of crafty crime cinema. That period of the mid-90s after Pulp Fiction took over the world created the perfect storm of opportunity and hunger that reminded studios that, yes, crime does indeed pay.

There was, of course, no end to the Tarantino apers and also-rans, as major studios and indie newcomers alike tried to capture the same kind of criminal magic QT did, most of which are now utterly and entirely forgettable. Ritchie, however, stood apart.

The one-two punch of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch solidified Ritchie’s status as an auteur of engaging and memorable crime tales. Even his lesser-revered works like Revolver and RocknRolla, neither of which made quite the splash of their forebears, but which arguably are due for reevaluation, had a style to them and were indicative of Ritchie’s wonderful criminal voice.

Even as he’s drifted away from the genre upon which he made his career, it’s hard to forget his impact on the evolution. Imagine if Martin Scorsese had, after Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, gone on to make franchise films. Imagine a world where Tarantino oversaw the MCU. Which is a big part of the reason why The Gentlemen feels so fresh.

Ritchie’s return to the style and tone of his early career is the director’s best film in decades. The Gentlemen feels like the film of a young artist out with something to prove. There’s a hunger to the film reminiscent of Lock Stock and a confidence reminiscent of Snatch. At the same time, it’s clear his efforts directing big budget studio films have given him a whole new bag of tricks to work with, making The Gentlemen a film that begs to be seen.

The film follows Matthew McConaughey’s Michael Pearson, a man who has cornered Britain’s marijuana market for years. Ready to retire, he seeks to sell his enterprise to a fellow American businessman (Jeremy Strong) for a cool $400 million. Sensing weakness, however, enemies both old and new seek to muscle in on Michael’s position and force him out of the game with nothing to his name.

The Gentlemen revels in the same kind of rapid paced, multifaceted plotting that made Lock Stock and Snatch (and even Revolver and RocknRolla) so delightfully memorable. The film is framed as an illicit conversation between sleezy journalist Fletcher (Hugh Grant) and Michael’s right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), each of whom knows different parts to the overall story being told, and neither of whom knows which parts the other knows.

Together, they weave a wild tale of revenge and counter-revenge that soon spirals into an escalating series of comedic errors and miscalculations. The Gentlemen is as complex as anything Ritchie has written before now, and its comedic twists and dramatic turns will keep you rapt as the writer/director’s maddening machinations unfold.

In turns hilarious and shocking, The Gentlemen finds Ritchie back in form and at the top of his game. Even as someone who enjoyed his Sherlock movies and his adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., it’s hard to deny how on he feels with this outing. It is a film that stands proudly next to his first two, reminding us that it’s never wise to count him out. Ritchie has always been a director capable of pivoting well into new directions, and so his return shouldn’t shock us.

Hopefully, Ritchie isn’t ready to pull away from the genre, as his brand of noir madness is always so fun to see. It might even be worth sitting through another Aladdin or Sherlock to get there, and I certainly wouldn’t mind another dip into The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but The Gentlemen is clearly the kind of thing that Ritchie does best.

The Gentlemen is now available on home video and VOD.

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