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Review: The Gentlemen – “Snatch in slippers”

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Brit director Guy Ritchie — whose last five features were all big studio movies that have been hit: ‘Aladdin’, miss: ‘Sherlock Holmes’, meh: ‘Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows’, eurgh: ‘King Arthur’, and largely unseen gem: ‘The Man from UNCLE’ — returns to the geezer gangster genre that made his name with ‘The Gentlemen’.

The ensemble of loveable colourful characters quadruple-crossing each other, being extremely quotable and winding their way through a twisty plot is all very ‘Lock Stock’ but the energy levels are far lower, making this less a ‘RocknRolla’ and more a ‘Snatch’ in slippers.

Any film that begins with an immaculately suited Matthew McConaughey walking into a pub and ordering a pint and a pickled egg immediately has my attention, and ‘The Gentlemen’ just about holds it throughout. But while it is ever so slick and smart and stylish, it can also be self-indulgent, slow and smug and the narrative is constructed in a way that is cringingly meta.

Investigative reporter Fletcher (Hugh Grant) visits gangster Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) to spin out a tale of dastardly double-crossing drug dealers starring Raymond’s boss Mickey (McConaughey). Fletcher is so proud of the story he has uncovered that he has already formatted it into a screenplay and acts it out, even describing the cuts and sometimes doing the voices.

It is a concept alright, but it becomes instantly annoying and bogs events down in a layer of late and wannabe postmodernism that ‘The Gentlemen’ would operate far better without.

Hunnam does nothing but adjust his glasses for the first third of the film as Grant’s wonderfully horrid and filthy-minded pap unspools the story of Mickey fighting to protect his marijuana business, and once we get down to business — and the actual story — ‘The Gentlemen’ is a Ritchie signature cool and complex crime caper. Just at a gentle jog as opposed to the buzzing frenetic sprint of ‘Snatch’.

The uber-cool Mickey spars verbally, physically and politically with Jeremy Strong’s rival grower, Henry Golding’s dangerous upstart Dry Eye and Colin Farrell as Coach – a brilliant and barmy mentor to a group of boxing ninjas in matching tartan tracksuits.

The rest of the costuming is perfect too, enabling you to read characters almost straight away, and — as always — Ritchie’s soundtrack absolutely slaps: full of indie, Britpop, rock ‘n’ roll and Motown classics.

Also as always are lots of nice narrative surprises and flashes of violence, hilariously awkward situations and killer put-downs. In fact, ‘The Gentlemen’ is a “cunt” fest. This may be the most – and the most varied – use of the c-bomb in any film.

As fun as all this is, Ritchie’s visual pacing has noticeably slowed. The camera is a lot more stationary than usual and there’s no flashy post image processing or freezes or on-screen character names or any of that shenanigans. There may not even be any slow-mo. ‘The Gentlemen’s hijinx is so gloriously sweary and silly that even minus the snap and energy of his early gangster films you forgive it and enjoy it. But whenever we return to Hugh and Hunnam’s framing device conversation the film slams to a halt.

‘The Gentlemen’ is a settled down Ritchie getting out of his armchair to remind you that he’s still the boss of the British gangster film that he reinvigorated twenty years ago. He’s just going to take his time, and stop to have a nice cup of tea and a sit down every so often.

The Gentlemen is released in the UK on the 1st of January.

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