Guy Ritchie’s latest film is a winning return to the gritty ensemble crime caper format that fueled his rise to fame with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. The characters might be a bit more posh this time around, but it feels more like a signature Ritchie film than anything else he’s made in the last decade, all the more astonishing coming immediately in the wake of his previous project, Disney’s bloated live-action Aladdin remake.
The plot centers around a powerful American ex-pat marijuana kingpin named Michael (Matthew McConaughey) as he works to extricate himself from his illegal empire in the UK so he can retire and enjoy the fruits of his labor. Charlie Hunnam plays his loyal fixer/bodyguard Ray, and Michelle Dockery briefly appears as his dedicated wife. Unfortunately, his road to retirement is hampered by his untrustworthy potential buyer, as well as a rival Chinese gang about to be controlled by the power-hungry Dry Eye (Henry Golding) and an unscrupulous blackmailing slimeball named Fletcher (Hugh Grant having the time of his career).
Ritchie’s dialogue crackles with the snappy wit of his earliest work, although it also contains some questionable casual racism, most painfully in the repeated reference to the head of the gang as “the Chinaman”. His plot is solid if not particularly twisty, with the principal delight coming from watching the engaging characters trying to one-up each other.
The players are uniformly great, with special kudos to Hugh Grant playing against his upper crust type as a grimy, sniveling jerk. McConaughey initially seems a bit out of place in the Ritchieverse, especially with an opening monologue that brings to mind his car commercial work more than anything else, but he proves to be a strong leading man for the film. It’s also nice to see Hunnam getting a great role here after the debacle of his last outing with Ritchie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The relative newcomer Henry Golding holds his own admirably well against the heavyweights in the cast, while Colin Farrell rounds out the key players in an amusing albeit comparatively minor role.
The Blu-ray has a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that doesn’t get much of a workout with the dialogue, but comes in handy for some sporadic action scenes and impressive song selections including Roxy Music’s early track “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” and a stellar cover version of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. The bonus features are fairly weak, with only a perfunctory clip real highlighting some choice Ritchie dialogue, a worthless “glossary of cannabis” that lists the multiple terms used to describe the substance in the film, and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. Also in the disappointing column, the included digital copy is only redeemable and watchable via iTunes, a confusing move considering that the Miramax/STX film is distributed by the Movies Anywhere-friendly Universal. Ultimately, this release is a purchase mainly for fans who just want to rewatch the film on disc, as the rest of the package offers very little value.