FlixChatter Review: The Gentlemen (2020)

I’d say Guy Ritchie is an acquired taste… you could even say he’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it filmmaker, which means you either love or hate his fast-paced, at-times frenetic style, and I’m mostly talking about his gritty British gangster films, so the family-friendly Aladdin is obviously an exception. For the most part, I like his movies. From his debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, to the underrated Rocknrolla, and the 2015 The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which I like more on rewatch, his movies are often irreverent, cheeky and fun.

After Aladdin, Ritchie returns to his roots with The Gentlemen. He’s back to portraying working class gangsters, peppered with his rather unsubtle disdain for the British upper class. This time he’s got an American as the protagonist, a self-made London-based cannabis [drug]lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). Mickey is trying to sell his profitable marijuana empire off so he could retire with his wife Rosalind. He’s already found a buyer and they’ve agreed on a price. But then of course, things go awry as bribery, blackmail, and all kinds of treachery schemes complicate matters for Mickey and his loyal right-hand-man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam).

The amusing part of the whole narrative is the fact that the story is told by private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant, doing his best Cockney accent) to Raymond. I won’t go into details apart from the fact that he’s got crucial intel involving Mickey’s business dealings that include some lesser members of the British royal family, and he’s willing to keep it a secret for a handsome fee.

The interaction between Grant and Hunnam are my favorite parts of the movie. There’s a rather silly movie-within-a-movie bit that’s gleefully amusing thanks to Grant’s performance and Hunnam’s constantly-befuddled expression. I love how Grant’s embraced his comedic side playing a flamboyant scumbag (what the Brits would call a tosser), and he seems to be having loads of fun tormenting Hunnam’s straight-laced Raymond. In Guy Ritchie’s world, even gangsters stand by a certain ‘moral’ code.

The film goes back and forth between Fletcher’s version of the story and the reality, which isn’t always easy to follow. Some of the things happening made little sense, but it was a lot of fun that you’re along for the ride. McConaughey‘s movie star charisma works well for the role, in fact, it’s nice to see him use his Southern charm and menacing energy in equal measure. Henry Golding‘s Dry Eye is perhaps the weakest link of the movie. Not the actor’s fault necessarily, as I think Golding is more versatile than meets the eye, but his role is more of a caricature, not exactly a memorable villain. Not that I think about it though, I think Ritchie’s movies aren’t known for having memorable villains, perhaps because his protagonists are often anti-heroes.

Now, despite his limited screen time, the movie’s surprising MVP is actually Colin Farrell, an inner city boxing trainer known as Coach who becomes Raymond’s unexpected ally. Involuntarily, Coach got dragged into Mickey’s crime world thanks to his students, one of them is played by Manchester rapper Bugzy Malone.  There’s a fantastic rap video at one of Mickey’s cannabis lab, as well as in the end credits that’s well worth staying for. As the sole female character in a sea of testosterone, Michelle Dockery is wonderfully shrewd, sexy and confident as Mickey’s beloved wife whom he adores and looks up to.

It’s still a movie about the boys however, and in that regards it’s not a ‘woke’ film nor does Ritchie care much about being politically correct. Some of the racist, homophobic jokes would ruffle some feathers, there’s a hugely gross scene being played over and over, not to mention a certain vulgar scenario that is disturbing even without being shown. While some may call this movie a ‘return to form’ to what he does best, there’s much recycled material that feels derivative and predictable.

For a gangster crime comedy, there’s actually not a whole lot of action set pieces and it’s perhaps Ritchie’s more ‘restrained’ version in terms of frenetic action, violence and overly-stylized camera work, but of course it’s still chockfull of crude language and F bombs. I like that the movie is more of a battle of wits than wham-bam-action, as the gangsters try to outmaneuver each other to stay on top of their game. Stylistically, there’s also much to appreciate, from the dynamic music (score by Christopher Benstead) to the dapper business suits AND tracksuits (costume designer Michael Wilkinson previously worked with Ritchie in Aladdin), even the ones worn in the rap video.  I don’t know that he’ll win new fans to his cinematic flair, but for those who enjoy his style, I’d say it’s was pretty darn entertaining. I wouldn’t even mind watching it again when it’s out on streaming.


Have you seen The Gentlemen? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Downton Abbey (2019)

The popular period drama tv series spanning six seasons is back. This time on the big screen, also written by its creator, Julian Fellowes. I’ve only watched the first two seasons in its entirety, then sporadically after that, enough to understand who’s who in the Crawley family. If you have never seen a single episode of the series, you might find this who’s-who featurette handy. WARNING: There are some mild spoilers here, so if you prefer to go in blind, proceed with caution.

As the trailer has promised us, the film once again takes place at the sprawling estate in the English countryside. It’s set in Highclere Castle, which has just been listed on Airbnb, conveniently announced the same week the film’s US release 😉 The film opens with the Crawleys receiving royal mail… which then sets the motion for the upstairs/downstairs drama of the family preparing for a visit by King George V and Queen Mary (which is inspired by true events you can read about here). I think it’s ingenious that Fellowes places the fictitious Crawley family and their servants in context of real life events, such as the Titanic, Britain’s general election, and now the Royal visit.

The movie could’ve easily been made into 2-3 one-hour episodes with dizzying number of storylines jam-packed into a 2-hour running time. My friend who went with me to the early screening counted at least 9-10 different plots as we drove home… some are completely frivolous, mixed with a few intriguing ones. I thought the feud between servants and the royal entourage is amusing, though borderline absurd at times. There are SO many characters who’re all vying to get our attention, given they barely get a few minutes in before the plot jumps to something else.

Penelope Wilton & Dame Maggie Smith

Of course Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (the great Dame Maggie Smith) is my personal favorite from the series, and she’s got her share of fun, GIF-worthy snarky remarks in this movie as well. But of the male characters, widower Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the former driver who’s now part of the family, gets the most screen time here. First, there’s a mysterious military guy (Stephen Campbell Moore) who despite his seemingly-friendly encounter becomes increasingly suspicious that he has grand designs on the royal visit. There’s also [SPOILER ALERT!] a potential romance between him and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the maid of Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting (Imelda Staunton) who happens to be Robert’s estranged cousin. There’s apparently a falling out over some inheritance issue, which creates some hilarious shenanigans involving Violet and her ‘bestie’ Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton).

Tuppence Middleton and Allen Leech

There’s no lack of drama downstairs either. I mentioned the feud between the servants and the arrogant royal entourage, which entangles practically every single one of the servants. Some of the shenanigans are quite hilarious, thanks to the over-eager Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) who could barely holds his excitement to serve the royals! As the power struggle went on in Downton, Thomas (Robert James-Collier) has a night on the town, which provides an opportunity for a LGBTQ commentary on the legal repercussions of being gay in 1920s England. Thomas is a tough character to love given his past shenanigans at Downton, but one can’t help feel for him here.

The one scene that stays with me the most is a chance encounter between Branson and Princess Mary, more so because he didn’t know of her identity at the time. I think Tom is one of the most sympathetic characters in the series– someone from humble beginnings who has to straddle both worlds. The chance encounter ends up having quite a profound effect on the Princess who’s going through some personal struggles, which we later learn in the film.

Dame Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery

Besides Violet, Lady Mary is definitely a memorable character in her own right. Michelle Dockery portrays her perfectly as a wise, dutiful, often-conflicted who seems colder than she appears. There is a sweet, poignant scene between her and her beloved grandmother towards the end of the movie. I do appreciate that even for a film set in 1920s, the film shows plenty of strong women, both upstairs and downstairs, who are no shrinking violet [pun intended]. [SPOILER ALERT!] Speaking of Violet, think this might also be the last Downton movie we’d see her in, and Fellowes has carved her a graceful exit. One thing I’m definitely disappointed with is the lack of Mathew Goode, whose appearance is basically a cameo despite being listed so high on IMDb cast list!

Director Michael Engler (whose background is in stage directing) does his best juggling so many plot lines, but at times the movie feels jumpy and discombobulating to follow. There are a couple of mildly suspenseful moments, but mostly the movie is expectedly a tranquil affair. The visuals are gorgeous thanks to cinematographer Ben Smithard. And of course John Lunn‘s lush score is so iconic that even hearing a couple of notes of it immediately makes me want to return to Downton! The costumes and set design of the series have always been impeccable, and they turned them up a notch in this grand cinematic treatment. From the elegant dinners to the festive Royal parade through Downton Village, it would certainly make fans of the British royal family brimming with glee.

Overall it’s an entertaining movie if you’re into period dramas. Even with certain scenes some period drama fans might consider risqué, overall the movie plays it safe, aiming mostly for a feel-good vibe that won’t ruffle too much feathers. Fans of Downton would likely get the most enjoyment out of this movie, but casual moviegoers might still be entertained by the upstairs/downstairs shenanigans of British aristocrats.


Have you seen Downton Abbey movie? Let me know what you think!