Guy Ritchie has had one of the more varied careers in Hollywood. Not in terms of artistic content, mind you (all his films seem to share an entertaining, though familiar, style and eccentricity), but in terms of success. While he’s had some considerable highs (i.e. Aladdin – 2019 which way did better than even the highest of expectations, and Sherlock Holmes – 2009), he’s had quite some lows as well (i.e. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword which bombed quite fantastically at the box office). With The Gentlemen, he seems to be going a bit back to basics, to a more pure and unadulterated “Ritchie” style.
Michael Pearson (aka Mickey), played wonderfully by Matthew McConaughey, is getting out of the business. After spending the longer part of his life creating and building an empire from scratch by selling ‘puff’ (i.e. weed, marijuana, bush, or skunk-a-mola white widow super cheese), he wants to get out of the business and live a more wholesome and domestic life with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). He already has Matthew (Jeremy Strong) in mind as the buyer, who, although they’re main competitors in the business, have always shared a certain level of mutual respect. Not a few days have passed after Mickey has proposed this to Matthew that Dry Eye (Henry Golding), another mafia boss of a very different set of vices, gets wind of it and wants to take it. From then on things get quite complicated as Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a reporter, has documented all these exchanges, and is asking Ray (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s right hand guy, to give him a hefty sum of money if he wants him to keep the evidence from making his way to his boss, who has had a grudge against Mickey after he ridiculed him at a party.
The Gentlemen is heavy on plot and characters. Things start off quite simple, but soon enough, there’s quite the number of plot elements with various characters moving and playing a part within them. While this makes for quite an exhilarating story, it also prevents deep character development, which brings us to The Gentlemen’s biggest drawback. With so many characters and plot devices moving around within the story, it is obvious there was very little time to spend with each character to develop them beyond what most people would call ‘acceptable’ . They all have their own quirks and personalities, with each of them thankfully materializing as unique people. However, besides maybe a few moments with Mickey and Dry Eye, all the characters end up the same people they were at the beginning of the film. It is a weird criticism, but The Gentlemen gets so many of its elements right that it is hard to not notice perhaps the only thing that prevents it from becoming what most would consider a perfect film. Having said that, The Gentlemen is undeniably one of the best films to come out in 2019, with its plot, acting, directing, and style overcoming that drawback in the story.
Guy Ritchie knows how to direct. Say what you will about his box office failures, the man has style. It can feel a bit too familiar at times, but he carries it out to such a silky smooth effect that it is hard not to be charmed by it and enjoy it, especially here. The dialogue is rich, with all the different lines, songs, scenes, and editing blending together so well that it almost feels like you’re watching and listening to a two-hour-plus song with the perfect rhythm and pacing. The cinematography and costume design is also very praise worthy. Were it not for one of the plot elements involving phones, this could easily be ambiguous in its time period. It harks back to the 50s and earlier decades, with the warm, almost cherry-brown color palette adding to the style which pretty much becomes a character in of itself.
As a film, The Gentlemen is actually a very enjoyable crowd pleaser. Besides the style, the story is also very well constructed, reaching a crescendo about two thirds into the film that is actually quite nicely sustained until the very end. It may not be big on substance or character development, but it is quite undeniably one of the most enjoyable gangster films from recent years. It does not have the substance of the more famous gangster films from say Martin Scorsese, but it is also ten times more enjoyable without the post-watch conflicted feelings of watching a terrible person, or persons, self-destruct while obtaining power.
Look at the smaller patterns on the bartender’s collar, they’re practically missing on the standard blu-ray, but more clear and better resolved on the 4K disc
The HDR10 encoded 4K picture look quite gorgeous. The film was reportedly shot in 3.4K and finished at a 4K DI (if IMDB is to be trusted). Even though it was shot on digital, the picture went through some post-processing that added grain, and it looks quite convincing, to the point that I first wondered whether this had been shot on 35mm. The grain looks quite natural, and on 4K it look very refined and actually beautiful. Fine detail is very well displayed. Some sequences in the film were shot in an interesting way, in which there are various shots in which two or more characters are within the frame at two different planes in space (i.e. someone is closer to the camera while someone else is further away), and seemingly as a stylistic choice, the camera is focused on the space between them, making the people on camera look a tiny bit out of focus. That takes slight hit on the fine detail, but on other shots with character closeups or outdoor medium and wider shots, detail does hold up quite well, with stitching and patterns on clothing, letters on a chalkboard, and pores and hair on people being very apparent defined. The scene in which Dry Eye is trying to convince Mickey to sell to him is a showcase of skin pores and hair, and is a great example for how fine detail on face closeups should look on the higher format. It is also worth mentioning that grain is more readily resolved thanks to the higher definition, helping the image maintain its more filmic intended look.
The colors and HDR compliment the 50s style quite well without calling too much attention to itself. The higher dynamic range is readily apparent from the opening scene, as the various lights inside a house at nighttime carry some nice punch that go beyond SDR levels. Outdoor scenes in the sunlight also look appropriately brighter, with greens popping off quite nicely. Colors are perhaps where the picture shines its best, with other colors, such as red and yellow also looking punchier and more natural. Red from the blood has that darker but deeper shade that is harder to capture on the narrower dynamic range and color palette of standard blu-ray. And the different yellow shades on the different types of clothing (such as on Rosalind and Dry Eye’s shoes) help realize that style even better. I’d be curious to see how the warmer and browner color palette fares against the SDR version. Black levels are nice and deep with plenty of shadow detail and nice separation between them, such as on the various suits the characters wear. There is also more shadow detail in darker areas, with less crushed blacks while still being deeper than on the SDR standard blu-ray. There are a few scenes in which things look a bit murky and black levels are not as deep, but these are intended and appropriate for the respective scenes. Compression is top notch, with no visible artifacts whatsoever. On the whole, the HDR is deceivingly subtle but it is nonetheless unmistakable, and once you start analyzing it you see much more it enhances the picture while keeping it true to the intended film style that the filmmakers were obviously going for.
Notice the refelctions on Charlie Hunnam’s glasses and his eyes here, they’re more defined on the 4K disc, capturing his facial expression better, as well as the edges of his fingers
The Dolby Atmos track is quite excellent, but shy of reference quality due to the nature of the film. Clarity, surround use, and dialogue intelligibility are outstanding. The only thing that could keep it from being understandable are the thick accents of some of the characters. There isn’t a ton of action, but the film does have a few spurts of intense violence which the track handles perfectly with great support from the subwoofer. An explosion and different scenes with gun shootings sound and feel quite realistic and authoritative. Cars sweeping from the sides and back, voices from characters off-screen, and fight scenes with various people are carried with perfect directionality from the surrounds. Separation across the front stage is also great, making the everything sound spacious and bigger. More atmospheric effects and music are not forgotten, and the track uses them in the whole soundstage to achieve a high level or realism and immersion. The heights are sparingly used as far as discrete effects go, mostly limited to music and atmospheric sound that carry over from the rest of the soundstage. Given the nature of the story, this is not surprising, as the bulk of the film is more dialogue driven and the action on screen stays at ear level.
Look at the detail on the patterns on the chair, the fine grain in the darker portions of the image, and window features
Unfortunately, the package is quite low on extras:
The only actual interesting one is the Behind the Scenes, but it is quite short. The other two are fun, but they’re basically snippets from the film spliced together to form the theme of the each respective Featurette. They all total to only a few minutes of extras.
Guy Richie has achieved a highly enjoyable gangster story with loads of style. It is not high on character development but the film mostly overcomes this thanks to the aforementioned style, the acting, excellent dialogue, and machinations of the plot which all work together and result in an extremely entertaining film. The HDR10 encode compliments the visual style extremely well and is just shy of perfection. The Dolby Atmos mix is excellent but held back by the nature of the on screen action. Both are excellent, however. Even with the lack of bonus features, the film and excellent technical qualities of the disc are too high to say anything negative about the overall package. Highly recommended.
NOTE: The screenshots above (including the ones from the slider comparisons) were converted from 10 bit HDR to 8 bit SDR.
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