Food: Nothing more fitting for this film than a good old fashioned steak, so this week I am going to recommend my favorite spot in the city to engorge on this type of meal. Sparks Steak House in NYC is most known as being the location where notorious gangster Paul Castellano got “whacked.” Last spring, I went with a couple of my coworkers after a baseball game and we ordered some appetizers to start. I recommend the Prosciutto with Melon, the Sautéed Mushrooms and the Creamed Spinach. For the main course, I can’t pass up Filet Mignon made from beef tenderloin, which was delicious and served with savory mashed potatoes. I ordered with the house Red Wine, but you can’t go wrong pairing with an Aperol spritz or an Old Fashioned cocktail.
Film: “The Gentlemen” (2020) is Guy Ritchie’s latest feature, and it feels like a welcome return to his roots, mimicking the signature style reminiscent of his earlier classics like “Snatch” (2000). With other ambitious pieces like “Aladdin” in 2019, Ritchie was restrained by expectations on creating a remake of something so beloved, as well as the moderation required for a family film. Conversely, “The Gentlemen” is able to go balls to the walls, with savage violence and a surplus of objectionable language in the most fun of ways.
The story jumps in guns a blazing, no life raft, sink or swim. All the characters are quickly introduced and close attention is required. Cleverly, the story is revealed with a sort of overture given by a hilariously eccentric and magisterial writer named Fletcher (Hugh Grant at his absolute best) as he shares his ideas for a screenplay to a man named Raymond (Charlie Hunnum) who we discover is the right-hand man to Fletcher’s lead character. It reads like a tall tale, and soon we are immersed into the thrilling universe of drug lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey).
At a party Mickey attends with his demure, but perceptive wife Rosalind (played by Michelle Dockery, waxing her own delightful Essex accent after years of playing the well-spoken Lady Mary in Downton Abbey). Mickey is a cannabis tycoon, who is looking to sell his business strategically, so that him and Rosalind can retire and enjoy themselves abroad. He briefly sizes up potential buyer Matthew Berger (“Succession’s” Jeremy Strong), American billionaire. In another interaction, Mickey snubs tabloid magazine editor, Big Dave (Eddie Marsan), for being a tabloid editor. Big Dave hires Fletcher, the “screenwriter,” who is actually a private investigator, to follow Mickey to see if there are any links to Pearson and the Royal Duke’s heroin-addicted daughter, which he hopes to exploit. Fletcher ends up using his P.I. findings (embellished as a screenplay titled Bush) to sell to Mickey’s aforementioned right hand man, Raymond, for £20,000,000, instead of simply delivering back to Big Dave.
All the while, another interested party approaches Mickey to buy his business: Chinese mafioso, Lord George (Tom Wu), who sends his apprentice Dry Eye (Henry Golding) to make the offer. Mickey refuses, which sends Lord George into a spiral. Pearson’s lab in then raided by aspiring YouTube MMA fighters who call themselves “The Toddlers” who steal a van-load of marijuana and upload a music video of the overthrow online. However, their ringleader and trainer, Coach (Colin Farrell), knows and respects Mickey and is horrified when he sees what his students have done, asking them to delete the video immediately and contemplates how he can make it up to Mickey. He finds Phuc (Jason Wong), – and yes, the characters relish in exaggerating the pronunciation of “fuh-uk” – who works for Lord George, is the one responsible for telling The Toddlers the location of Mickey’s marijuana lab, and holds him captive.
During this time, Mickey has offered to help the Royal Duke by bringing home his daughter while transferring his cannabis plants out of his estate, uncovering her connection to the entrepreneur. The plot continues to thicken, as plans go awry and the hidden intentions and loyalties of each character present a new twist to the story.
“The Gentlemen” are hungry opportunists and each one adds an entertaining flare to the complicated script. The Bush screenplay gives the story a double entendre and positions the crime heavy action into a comedic tone, while also taking advantage of the opportunity to make plenty of tongue and cheek references to filmmaking. That being said, there were a couple of missed opportunities that could have benefited the film overall. The snappy dialogue and complex plot can be difficult to follow, and could have been executed with slightly more clarity, so that one could relax and enjoy the humor, as opposed to feeling exasperated in an attempt to keep up. There is also no commentary on the marijuana industry as a whole, so while the intention was simply to make a fun movie, it could have still managed to construct an opinion here. Lastly, though Matthew McConaughey’s performance is top-notch, the character of Mickey Pearson is shrouded in legend, grandeur and respect, so it may have played better to allow him to feel more mysterious. It may have elevated the audience’s desire to root for him, instead of giving us room to find his faults or contradictions.
All in all, the film is a hit, mastering the art of entertaining and bringing something genuinely new to the table. In the age of back to back remakes, superheroes, and Oscar-bait, par-for-the-course, widely accepted, surefire triumphs, movies like this that succeed in doing something different deserve to make money. It works well and it feels like the kind of Tarantino-style spitfire filmmaking that only gets more fun every viewing. “There’s only one rule in this jungle. When the lions hungry, he eats.”