The genie is out of the bottle. The motormouthed magician of whom I speak is Guy Ritchie. The Gentlemen finds the unlikely director of Aladdin v.2019 released from Disneyland to return to his distinctly loquacious crooks played by distinctly memorable actors. It's the milieu that made him, and still the one that uses his gifts for language and misdirection best. If The Man from U.N.C.L.E. hadn't been so good (and so sadly underseen), I'd say he should never be allowed to make a movie for more than $50 million.
The Gentlemen (a right bollocks title, that) feels like an unofficial sequel to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, the low-budget, high-energy 1998 debut that brought Ritchie international acclaim. A Shakespearean farce about dealers, thieves, and one self-appointed "Porn King" in grimy London, Lock, Stock was less splattery than the Quentin Tarantino crime comedies that preceded it, but equally drunk on language. That one followed young local hoods trying to escape a powerful graybeard mobster. The Gentlemen, in turn, focuses on a crazy-rich middle-aged kingpin who fears being deposed by the next generation of sleazebags.
That would be Mickey, played by Academy Award-winning sentient tanning bed Matthew McConaughey and a formidable array of plaid suits. He's angling to sell his marijuana empire to fellow American expat Matthew (an unrecognizable Jeremy Strong) and spend more time with spouse Rosalind (Michele Dockery), who runs a garage specializing in high-end cars.
Mickey's sales pitch to Matthew gets into the weeds, as it were, about how he has flourished cultivating and distributing his "skunk-a-mola white widow super cheese," and the details of his criminal conspiracy are intriguing and plausible. Also, Rosiland isn't sure she wants Mickey to retire, a wrinkle that gives the movie's only significant female character more nuance and agency than you might expect. In six seasons of Downton Abbey, Dockery never once got to say, "There's f***ery afoot." Points to Ritchie and his writing partners Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies for each of these things. (I'll be taking several of those points away shortly.)