The Gentlemen isn’t the movie you think it is.
The marketing push has advertised it as Guy Ritchie’s return to form, a London-based crime caper with dapper gents and profanities to spare. The trailers lean on the all-star cast — Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell and Michelle Dockery (in a typically thankless Ritchie-lone-woman role) — and edit the best scenes together to make the film seem wild and hilarious.
If only that were so.
The Gentlemen wishes it were Ritchie’s return to form. After a decade of big-budget misfires, it can most generously be described as Tarantino-lite. Ritchie’s wobbly ruminations on male middle age don’t come anywhere close to Tarantino’s soft and somber contemplations in Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood. Not to mention that the casual, lazy racism Ritchie deploys to make Asian gangsters the film’s villains is so cringe-y and dated that it’s a little alarming no one questioned it and told him maybe, just maybe, he should leave those backward Yellow Panic stereotypes in the ’90s. (Justice for Henry Golding, who deserves so much more than the pile of racist shit he’s given here.)
That, in a nutshell, is the Bad and the Ugly. The Good is the one reason you should see this movie.
The Good is Charlie Hunnam.
Before The Gentlemen, I did not get Charlie Hunnam. I never watched Sons of Anarchy, and up until I looked at his IMDb page last night, I legitimately forgot I’d seen the majority of his movies — including Crimson Peak, the movie Evan and I went to see literally 30 minutes after he proposed to me. I barely remembered he was in Triple Frontier because I couldn’t quite place which generic blond played the brother of similarly generic blond Garrett Hedlund. For most of his career, it’s clear I’ve found Hunnam to be pretty forgettable.
Not so anymore!
The Gentlemen is a completely different movie when Hunnam’s Raymond is on the screen. He is suave. He is magnetic. He is electrifying, even when staring down Hugh Grant as the older actor recounts the majority of the movie’s action to him in a pace-killing framing device. He wears a waistcoat and grills Wagyu steak, which he pulls from a freezer that also happens to contain a frozen body. He slicks back his hair, primly fiddles with his glasses like he’s the second coming of Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and gets shit done. He is … everything.
As the right-hand man of McConaughey’s weed kingpin Mickey, Raymond is in the background of almost every scene, and even then you can’t take your eyes off of him. When he gets his big showdown moment, the movie feels like it has stakes for the first time and like there’s a better movie buried deep within the mediocrity. There is no doubt that The Gentlemen would have benefited from focusing 50% more on Raymond and 50% less on Mickey. Mr. “Alright, Alright, Alright” sleeps through his role, whereas Hunnam knows he’s perfectly cast and knows he has to give it his all to make this stand out. And boy, does he.
Hunnam carries the burden of a fairly flat movie on his not inconsiderable shoulders. Without him, The Gentlemen wouldn’t work at all, wouldn’t be memorable, wouldn’t even be worth talking about apart from rightfully ripping it a new one for its unbelievably terrible treatment of its non-white characters.
We’re in the middle of cinema’s dry season. The Gentlemen fits the January ticket — not great, but still pretty enjoyable. But Hunnam might be just the thing to wet your whistle as we wait for the spring blockbusters to come in from the cold. Might as well treat yourself to this tall glass of water while it’s here.