Guy Ritchie, at one time a promising filmmaker whose features provided a jovial look at England's criminal underworld, spent roughly the last decade directing studio fare that was meant to appeal to the widest audience possible. In 2020, Ritchie is telling gangster stories again with The Gentlemen, a stab at a more mature version of Snatch that's fun, playful but still a little sophomoric when compared with today's social climate.

Ritchie normally writes and directs his features, which he's done here, and he shares production credits with Ivan Atkinson and Bill Block.

What's impressive is the cast he's procured for this gangster comedy – Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant are along for this tale of a drug kingpin looking to sell his entire operation but problems arise that threaten to lower his asking price.

Much of the film is told in the past tense – a private investigator named Fletcher (Grant) looks to extort millions from marijuana grower/dealer Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) in exchange for information that could ruin the drug lord. Fletcher meets with Raymond (Hunnam), Mickey's number one guy, to make the offer and the pair exchange witty banter involving clever, yet offensive, jabs and some typical cockney slang that's become a Ritchie trademark. Admittedly, the plot gets a little complicated, but once everything unfolds it comes off as clever, albeit unoriginal.

Ritchie employs much of his old techniques – slick cutaways for misdirection; retelling of scenes from multiple perspectives; violence as a form of humor; nice use of music; and a sprinkling of racist jokes. Outside of the jokes (a lot of them are jabs at Asians; Golding plays a rival gangster named Dry Eye), much of his trademark tricks work, always providing for a fresher take on the gangster genre.

Evident is the disproportionate amount of men to women, one of Ritchie's less pleasant filmmaking traits. Michelle Dockery, likely best known as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey, is the only significant female character. She plays Rosalind Pearson, Mickey's wife, and she's portrayed as tough, smart, foul-mouthed (“There's f**kery afoot.”) yet loving, but one scene undoes much of that. Dockery doesn't get a lot of screen time, which is upsetting because she's good on all levels (but I guess that's why it's called The Gentlemen and not The Gentlemen and One Woman).

Since we're talking about performances, Gentlemen is scenery chewing at its finest, the most flamboyant one being Hugh Grant. Grant's Fletcher is a total sleaze, playing up the notion all P.I.'s are like that. Fletcher sports a leather jacket, a turtleneck and yellow-tinted sunglasses – all of which come straight from the shady dude manual on how to dress. But Grant is great; he soaks up every bit of Fletcher and spews out maybe his most unlikeable character in his long filmography. Surprisingly, even though Fletcher is supposed to be unlikeable, you can't help but love Grant for going all in.

The other notable performance is Farrell as Coach. He's a boxing trainer with some gangster ties who's always wearing tracksuits, a top hat and square-rimmed eyeglasses. He's got that old but still tough thing going and he's loyal and respectful. His introduction is funny because he squares off briefly against some teenage thugs in a small eatery. Coach is a minor character but is the catalyst for some of The Gentlemen's funnier scenes. Also, I'd like to think Coach watches Black Mirror… you'll see what I mean.

McConaughey provides another commanding performance; Mickey is smart, cunning and orderly. Anything that threatens that order he handles swiftly and sternly. I like McConaughey here; well, I like nearly all his performances. He's flashy, too, but Grant and Farrell are flashy enough to make McConaughey seem tame.

In all, The Gentlemen is fun and fits perfectly with Ritchie's early efforts – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. This isn't at the same level as those films, but there's a modicum of maturity with this entry. Also, if you like those two films Gentlemen may come off a little stale despite it feeling fresh and new in 2020. This, though, is a welcome return to Guy Ritchie's roots and will appease the Ritchie fans out there.

3.5 stars out of 5


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