Roger Ebert Home

Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen Stumbles Through the Door from Film to TV

Not all mediums work the same way. Say what you will about the overall quality, Guy Ritchie’s best work has a rhythm that fits film, whether it’s the zippy pace of something like “Snatch” or the gut punch of his underrated “Wrath of Man.” From the minute I heard that his “The Gentlemen” was going to be loosely adapted into a TV series for Netflix, I was concerned that his rhythm couldn’t really be adapted to episodic television. By and large, I was right. 

To be fair, “The Gentlemen” isn’t a complete disaster as much as a stumle—there are some fun supporting performances and clever sequences, but they’re surrounded by scenes that just feel way too long, as if you can sense Ritchie and his team treading water before they can get back to the fun stuff. The episodic nature of the show sometimes works in its favor because it allows those kind of quick, Ritchie-esque creative choices, but the overall season-long narrative sags and drags in a way that makes it difficult to care about what happens to anyone involved.

Eddie Horniman (Theo James) plays a suave gentleman who gets sucked into a criminal empire that he’s consistently trying to avoid. When his wealthy father passes away, Eddie discovers that dad had a few cohorts who operated on the other side of the law, which quickly results in the heir having to help manage various criminal operations out of the massive Horniman estate. It actually starts when Eddie’s dumb brother (Daniel Ings) struggles to pay back a boatload of cash to some drug dealers, leading to an extended scene in the premiere in which he dresses like a chicken for maximum embarrassment. Where this scene will end is obvious to anyone who has seen a Ritchie movie, which is part of the overall problem with “The Gentlemen” in that it’s clear that every negotiation is going to go poorly, there will likely be some highly-edited hand-to-hand combat, and probably a needle drop or two. The playbook is too familiar.

If you’re wondering when Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Grant are going to show up, be warned that this is not that show of your dreams. This is a spin-off really in tone and theme only, capturing the world of wealthy criminals in the U.K. and dropping an occasional reference to the film without being directly related to it. It’s a spiritual sibling, another tale of aristocrats who happen to operate criminal empires under the pomp and circumstance. It also has a bunch of Ritchie style to tie it to the film, including scribbled captions that further detail the criminal happenings or overwritten dialogue.

The truth is it’s hard to try and be the coolest cat in the room for eight hours. Eddie himself gets particularly lost in the action, partly due to an underwritten role but also a flat performance from James that creates a black hole at the center of the show. Kaya Scodelario fares much better as the co-lead, the woman who basically serves as Eddie’s liaison to the criminal world, and who gets her own rich arc in the back half of the season. When the show threatens to fall apart, she often brings it back, giving a confident, nuanced performance.

Like a lot of Ritchie projects, there’s fun to be had to on the fringe too, including a subdued turn from Ritchie BFF Vinnie Jones and guest spots from crime genre heavyweights Giancarlo Esposito and Ray Winstone. Some of the supporters feel unbalanced—Joely Richardson’s role is underwritten while the sweet stoner played by Michael Vu wears out his goofy welcome—and that feels indicative of the overall unpolished nature of the show on a narrative level. Subplots come and go, characters pop in and out, and none of it adds up to much at all (at least until Scodelario gets to do her work to ground it). And it’s all actually surprisingly tame for a Ritchie project, almost as if maybe it was once set-up at a network like TNT before getting the Netflix gig. Ritchie’s penchant for shock value has gotten him in hot water before, but it’s more interesting than this lukewarm stew.

By the end of the season, when Eddie has finally realized what the show made clear all along—that he’s pretty good at this criminal empire thing—viewers will be asking themselves if what unfolded over the previous eight hours wouldn’t have just worked better as a traditional film sequel or spin-off. Eddie may learn that he fits in his new home. Too bad the show about him never really does.

Whole season screened for review. On Netflix March 7th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Sweet Dreams
Challengers
Disappear Completely
LaRoy, Texas
The Long Game
Sasquatch Sunset

Comments

comments powered by Disqus