Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Coming in the wake of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which is a more sobering look at gangsters, this can feel like a fun tonic for movie-going audiences. Writer-director Guy Ritchie has a record of doing zippy gangster flicks, so a film like this is in good hands so to speak. However, I’ve never indulged in Ritchie’s gangster flicks, so I can’t speak to how they compare, but this film seems to exist in a bubble where outside forces, particularly the police, don’t factor into any events. Within that bubble, there seems to be themes that Ritchie is developing. One theme is the rebuke of greed or ambition. The other theme goes to what most gangster films juggle and that is the idea of loyalty, trust and sticking to one’s own kind, as well as the kinds of gender expressions that can lead to toxic masculinity. Ritchie attempts to push back against that toxic masculinity somewhat but it’s not as successful in terms of balance.
Ritchie also seems to be making a moral statement about the kind of gangsters at play here and the one for whom he makes as his protagonist. Yes, his protagonist is a drug dealer as all the gangsters here are, but Ritchie’s protagonist is better than the rest because he only deals marijuana, which isn’t as destructive a drug as heroin or cocaine. Ritchie’s protagonist is also better because he doesn’t kill anyone unless it’s in defense of a woman about to be raped or against some extreme bad guys like that. Ritchie isn’t making the argument that his protagonist isn’t a criminal, but he seems to suggest that his protagonist is the preferred kind of criminal who doesn’t seem to want to hurt people or cause the kind of death and destruction as his competitors would and do.
Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar and Magic Mike) stars as Mickey Pearson, an American gangster who runs an operation in England called the “bush game.” It’s an underground marijuana business that utilizes wealthy British people. Even though he considers himself a lion, he does have a code or this narrative about himself where he sees his drug dealing as not hurting people and he himself doesn’t hurt people unless it’s an extreme case. An early scene sees young Mickey wielding a bloody machete, but we’re led to believe that Mickey in general avoids that kind of violence, as he’d rather snub or turn his nose up to people with whom he’s against like the British elite or upper class would do.
Arguably, Mickey’s subordinates also don’t like engaging in that kind of violence either and only do so reluctantly. This is meant to convey this idea that these are good gangsters. Yet, the assumption is that there are murders occurring at their hands, but it’s not shown. Whereas other gangsters who are against Mickey have their violence shown and at times on full display, which demonizes those other gangsters in ways that are deserved but feel myopic in certain respects. Even though it’s suggested that the marijuana business, specifically for recreational use, is going to be legalized in the UK, right now it’s illegal, so Mickey and his subordinates shouldn’t be given a pass.
Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Pacific Rim) also stars as Raymond, the top subordinate to Mickey. He’s Mickey’s right hand and lead enforcer who like Mickey leans more toward behavior of the elite and upper class. He’d rather not get his hands dirty and exist in the same space as royalty or the wealthy, but he certainly packs a gun wherever he goes, sometimes even a machine gun. Yet, he’s supposed to be a man of class and dignity. We’re supposed to be more endeared to him because he has to rebuff the blackmailing and sexual advances of a scummy and greedy, private investigator named Fletcher, played by Hugh Grant (Bridget Jonse’s Diary and Notting Hill). The contrast between the two is striking. Yet, it’s disappointing that the film favors Raymond, the heterosexual masculine character, and not Fletcher, the seemingly homosexual and more effeminate one.
All of this would be fine if Ritchie didn’t put Mickey and Raymond on such a pedestal or put all of this in such a bubble, a bubble where there are no police in this film at all. We’re supposed to accept that Mickey and Raymond are simply really good at covering up their crimes and staying ahead of the authorities. This is not out of the realm of possibility, given that The Irishman is about allegedly a real-life gangster who got away with one of the most famous murders of all-time, as well as other murders. However, The Irishman took place in a bygone era. This film seemingly takes place in the present with modern technology, so it strains credulity that they could get away and cover up their crimes, unless the true lesson is not that they’re lions but just simply lucky.
Fletcher blackmails Raymond into giving him £20 million. Fletcher has evidence that a man working with Raymond and for Mickey killed a boy named Aslan in an attempt to rescue a girl who was the daughter of one of Mickey’s estate owners where he grows his underground marijuana. He also has evidence of Mickey’s underground marijuana in general. Fletcher threatens to send that evidence to the editor of a huge British newspaper unless Raymond gives him the large amount of money. What’s revealed is that Fletcher also sells this information to Russian gangsters because Aslan is the son of a Russian oligarch. That oligarch wants the information so that he can kill both Mickey and Raymond.
First of all, it strains credulity that Raymond could have covered up Aslan’s death completely. There is a humorous chase scene that shows three teenagers nearby recorded his death on their smart phones and Raymond having to get those phones back. Raymond is not seen killing any of these teenagers but them being alive as witnesses would still pose a problem. Yet, killing those teenagers would pose problems because they would have families who would miss them if they disappeared. The police would then get involved, but there’s no saying that any of those teens might go to the police anyway. Given that Mickey’s operation is one that’s assumed to be illegal as a kind of common knowledge that Fletcher references, it’s odd that the police wouldn’t be on to him already and an incident like Aslan’s death would then start them to connect the dots.
Secondly, it’s revealed that Fletcher sold the information to the Russians anyway. The Russians send people to kill Mickey and Raymond. Both survive with the Russians ending up dead. The movie concludes with the assumption that that’s all for the Russians. Yet, it seems ridiculous that the oligarch would simply give up after the first attempts to kill Mickey and Raymond failed. The oligarch’s son was killed, so it seems like the oligarch would keep going until he got vengeance. Yet, after only one attempt, the film concludes as a victory for Mickey and Raymond. Plus, the men who tried to kill Mickey while in his SUV were themselves killed in broad daylight on a public street in that same SUV. It doesn’t seem like Mickey or his people would have had time to clean up that scene, including the SUV before police got there or even before witnesses would have seen all or part of it. Again, the police would have gotten involved and would’ve started connecting dots that would have lead back to Mickey. Yet, this movie ends on a seemingly triumphant note for Mickey.
Lastly, Colin Farrell (Horrible Bosses and Minority Report) plays a boxing coach called “Coach” who becomes a subordinate to Mickey and Raymond, helping them to cover-up their crimes and the mess that befalls them. One tactic is that Coach is supposed to intimidate the editor of the British newspaper. The editor is called “Big Dave,” played by Eddie Marsan (Atomic Blonde and Happy-Go-Lucky). In a rip-off from Black Mirror, Coach forces Big Dave to have sex with a pig. However, it’s proven later that the whole thing wasn’t necessary because the evidence that Big Dave would have gotten was intercepted by Raymond. Plus, Big Dave’s fear of the video of him having sex with a pig could be explained away. He was abducted and drugged. His abduction was witnessed by the man who was his driver, so whatever embarrassment would come could be mitigated, especially since Big Dave runs a newspaper. All of this is to say the ending of this film didn’t feel thought out.
Rated R for violence, language, sexual references and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.