The Gentlemen (18)****

Director: Guy Ritchie

With: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam,

Hugh Grant

Runtime: 113 mins

After a couple of big budget Hollywood flops in the shape of The Man From UNCLE and King Arthur, Guy Ritchie found improbable success again with last year’s live action remake of Aladdin, but now returns to his Lock Stock roots for this London crime comedy that starts the new year off with a bang.

Only now it’s not so much a caper he’s bringing us as a parable, a gangster drama with a conscience to sit right alongside its streak of poor taste.

Just as Brad Pitt did in Snatch, McConaughey adds the American glamour and box office clout as Michael, a high-stakes drug dealer looking to sell on the UK empire he’s built over decades.

His right-hand man Ray (Hunnam) does much of the leg work for him, but adding to the fun is that the chain of events surrounding this sale is told in a sort of wraparound structure, wherein Hugh Grant’s sleazy investigator recounts the goings on to Ray (and us at the same time) as part of his scheme to blackmail them.

Grant enjoys himself enormously in just one of a series of top-line comic performances that draw laughs from their deadpan nature and the carefully crafted one-liners they’ve been give to spit. McConaughey Is charisma personified, Hunnam has probably never been better, and that’s before we even get to Colin Farrell’s perfectly judged supporting turn as a local heavy reluctantly drawn into the malarkey.

As writer, Ritchie is on familiar ground, weaving a tangled web around a collection of larger than life characters, with no shortage of crosses and twists along the way.

As director, he reins in his flashier impulses, so no super fast cutting or slo-mo fighting here, just a yarn well told that’s hugely entertaining but serious and tense when it needs to be, with everything and everyone coming together in the end in the traditional Ritchie manner.

It’s not inoffensive, but it is big and it is clever, and shows us that the British film industry can still knock genre movies out of the park every once in a while.

Paul Greenwood