Opening this weekend:
The Gentleman—Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Pearson, a wildly wealthy weed kingpin in the UK. By virtue of the fact, which Mickey himself points out, that his illicit product doesn’t kill people like heroin does, he’s the least despicable boss in this latest of writer-director Guy Ritchie’s gangster comedies.
Mickey would like to divest himself of his massive subterranean pot empire and live the life of a gentleman, so he makes an offer to a fellow rich American expat, the effete Matthew (Jeremy Strong), to sell him his business. But a hotheaded young mobster known as Dry Eye (Henry Golding) interferes in the deal, and there are raids and robberies and blackmail and murder, poisonings and double-crosses and triple-crosses and slow-motion sequences cut to blaring hip-hop on the soundtrack. And, of course, plenty of florid, curlicued dialogue spouted in working-class accents.
This is narrated to Mickey’s sidekick Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) by seedy shutterbug Fletcher (Hugh Grant) as if he’s pitching a movie project; he’s actually blackmailing him. It’s a treat to see Grant jettison his usual diffident toff persona and gleefully play an avaricious tout. But the whole cast, which includes Michele Dockery as Mickey’s playfully provoking wife and Eddie Marsan as a scuzzy tabloid boss, seems to be having fun, and it’s infectious. Maybe best of all is Colin Farrell as a no-nonsense boxing coach reluctantly pulled into underworld shenanigans in order to protect the lads he trains; he and Hunnam have a low-key rapport that makes a nice counterpoint to the general hamming.
In the end, of course, this is just another spin on the story of the veteran criminal who wants to make one last big score before he retires. But Ritchie’s flashy style and discursive humor keep it lively. Regrettably, his variation on an old plot device — it was already old when Shakespeare used it in The Merchant of Venice — hits a sour note in its tinge of the anti-Semitic. It’s probably unintentional, but it’s unsavory all the same.