“The Gentlemen” is a tongue-in-cheek title, referring to criminals who are supposed to be gentleman thieves … but in the world of filmmaker Guy Ritchie, such crooks stay mannerly only so long, usually about as long as it takes to get to the opening credits.
The writer-director certainly knows the genre, as proven by such earlier pictures as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “RocknRolla.” Here, he makes Matthew McConaughey the protagonist, a drug kingpin in England who wants out of the trade to live a comfy retirement with wife Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”).
Several things stand in his way, though, including a blackmailer played by Hugh Grant. He’s written a script based on McConaughey’s character, who naturally would prefer not to see his underhanded dealings detailed on the silver screen – thus potentially foiling his thought of handing his narcotics empire over to fellow hoodlum Jeremy Strong.
“The Gentlemen” makes room for a lot of good actors, with Colin Farrell, Charlie Hunnam and Henry Golding also among them. To do that, though, Ritchie’s script piles on several extra layers that seem unnecessary other than to usher those actors in … and it ends up feeling just that way.
The big disappointment about “The Gentlemen” is that Ritchie is so versed in its genre, his return to it should be a career-recharging triumph. His success on the independent-film level, where he made those initial crime sagas, led him into the big-budget world of “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – and even to Disney’s live-action version of “Aladdin,” for which he seemed an odd match.
He surely has some game players in his “Gentlemen” cast, and Grant (who also worked for Ritchie in the aforementioned “U.N.C.L.E.”) appears to have particular fun in playing against his usual image. McConaughey is suited to his role simply by being himself, and within the story’s boundaries, Mr. “All Right, All Right, All Right!” gets sufficient mileage out of that as his casual demeanor is put to a number of tests.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a parade of stars fueling a film, nor with putting a very American star like McConaughey into a foreign culture, which actually can be quite interesting. Unfortunately, “The Gentlemen” leaves a lot of the solid reasoning for those behind, and that it’s ultimately so unsatisfying is a crime in and of itself.