The Gentlemen (2020)

There was once a real estate agency in Perth named for its principal, Norm Lunt.

Googling Norm produces some very strange references to people who aren’t him so, except for a small percentage of baby boomers who grew up in this fair city, the man and his name have disappeared from our collective consciences.

That is excepting a small group of racing men who like to use rhyming slang. The almost-forgotten Norm became a convenient soubriquet for a forbidden swear word.

This useless information ties in with Guy Ritchie’s latest film The Gentlemen (2020) where it is obvious the man is unknown to Ritchie and thus the forbidden word gets a good airing.

SCENE STEALING: THE GENTLEMEN

However, it is done in such a funny manner. Emphasis is retained without feeling bombarded for the sake of it. In one brilliant scene, a young boxer is soothed in his anger by Coach (Colin Farrell) when the former is called names by his would-be sparring partner.

In what could be a life lesson in not to take offence at what’s said to you before examining who said it, why they said it and what they meant by it, Coach calms the youth down with sensible logic.

The Gentlemen continues Ritchie’s best-known genre, called Mockney by one reviewer but taking in a lot more of UK life than just the London of its main scenes.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) were in a similar oeuvre and the writer-producer-director has returned to his film-making roots with his latest. Plot similarities with the first two are present but why fiddle with something that works? The Bond franchise has had the same story line for nigh on 60 years. It made a few quid.

Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is a US Rhodes Scholar whose English university education has introduced him to selling weed to Lords, Ladies and low-life alike. He has parlayed this beginning into a career that has brought him fabulous riches and power. He is the UK cannabis provider.

He has decided to sell his empire and chooses another American Matthew Berg (Jeremy Strong) as the buyer. Word seeps out that Mickey’s operation is for sale and may be a sign of weakness from the gangster, who to survive and thrive has had no previous compunction about getting his hands dirty.

Enter Dry Eye (Henry Golding) an ambitious Chinese gang member who goes off reservation (mixed metaphor acknowledged) to incorporate Matthew into his ambitions.

Complications arise due to The Toddlers, a group of fit young men who have a seemingly law-abiding but very street-smart mentor called Coach.

Many of these facts are laid out by Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a very seedy private eye who has been secretly observing Mickey and his operation for months. He takes this knowledge to the gangster’s consigliore Ray (Charlie Hunnam) in an attempt to blackmail them.

Indeed consigliore is just one of several nods to The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola during the film. When Mickey confronts his main rival near film’s end his rant ends with a similar theme to Pacino in The Godfather II (1974):  “In my home, in my bedroom. Where my wife sleeps!”

Fletcher’s knowledge is supplied with photographic and written evidence of all he has found out in previous weeks but also includes a movie script which he generously throws in to sweeten the pot for his $20 million asking price.

Indeed Ritchie seems to be saying this is just a movie. What happens here can only happen in the movies. Right?

I’m not so sure?

The Gentlemen’s one female role is Mickey’s wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), all cockney-lip and stiletto-wearing tough girl. She is Mickey’s equal in everything and his one seeming weak spot. He loves her.

McConaughey, who can make a bourbon advertisement look like good acting, is perfectly sound but the star of the show is Hunnam, formerly the boy lover in TV’s Queer as Folk (1999-2000) and one of the more prominent bikies in Sons of Anarchy (2008-14). This guy’s good.

But Grant and Farrell do the scene stealing.

There’s no sign of foppish Hugh here. His gumshoe is a sleazy, gay bit of gutter trash.

Farrell’s wardrobe is enough to steal scenes. The fact he is fatherly and menacing in the one tracksuit is a joy to watch.

The Gentlemen has a plot created by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Martin Davies but screenplay by the director. It’s a wonderful twisting tale of London gang life and the establishment elite who provide the infrastructure for the crime.

…and, like Pulp Fiction (1994), there’s never a police officer in sight.

Score: 4.25

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