Matthew McConaughey Charlie Hunnam Michelle Dockery Hugh Grant
Jeremy Strong Colin Farrell Henry Golding Eddie Marsan
It takes intelligence and wit to create a drama that successfully mixes satire with extreme violence a la Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Inglorious Bastards, and Pulp Fiction), and Guy Ritchie has done it here in giving us an entertaining spoof on the underworld of crime. The characters must be colorful, are sometimes admirable, but do outrageous things and--most important—the script is key in smartly pulling it all together. Ritchie, with co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, has woven together a complicated plot that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. It requires the viewer to pay attention and keep in mind intricate connections and multiple plots.
The center of the action is legendary Mickey Pearson (McConaughey), who has established a multi-million dollar business in drugs, with the key element being that his operations are all top secret. His astute second, Ray (Hunnam), is entirely trustworthy and runs interference for him. Mickey is devoted to his gorgeous wife Rosalind (Dockery), who has her own automobile business on the side. All is humming along smoothly until word gets around that Mickey is ready to retire and pursue the good life.
Enter sleazy Fletcher (Grant), a reporter who has been sent by his publisher (Big Dave) to take Mickey down by blackmailing him. How he is trying to accomplish his assignment constitutes the major action of the story, which involves one of Mickey’s upper-class peers, Matthew (Strong); “Coach” (Farrell), a petty criminal trying to rehabilitate young bad boys; and numerous henchmen with brute strength on all sides. This is a “guys’” movie in which all the main characters have brawn and lightning-quick reaction times, except for a few of the bad guys, who are shown to be quite puny.
Casting is a strong asset, with cool McConaughey playing the good bad-guy, Hunnam being the canny one who must figure it all out, Grant being the smarty-pants who thinks he has it all figured out, and Farrell in a gem of a character role in which he is a little like the McConaughey figure—good and bad rolled up into one. Michelle Dockery goes completely against her Downton Abbey persona to be a smart woman who has come up from the sticks with a Cockney accent. Maybe I’ve been too swayed by HBO’s “Succession” drama, but Jeremy Strong—for all his good acting skills—just doesn’t seem quite believable as the evil Matthew. Other supporting actors like Henry Golding and Eddie Marsan are excellent.
Although the film is meant to be an entertaining spoof about different kinds of bad guys in the crime world, it does make some canny observations. One is that it goes against the common assumptions that upper class implies honesty and uprightness, while crime is more prevalent among the lower classes. Ritchie mixes them all up in this drama. Another point illustrated is that all drugs are not the same; some really do destroy lives and families, and other normally benign drugs can be contaminated. Still another is that honor (and dishonor) can be found among all kinds of humans and their endeavors, and that even hideous violence can sometimes be supremely satisfying.
BTW, I was especially gratified that there are no car chases in this action movie. Vehicles are used in various ways, and there are car accidents, but the generally obligatory car chase in most action movies is nowhere to be seen (satisfied “sigh!”).
This is an entertaining action movie with plenty of brawn, but one in which different wits are pitted against each other in a cat-and-mouse game.