He’s not the handsome grifter prince protected by a plot force field, nor the preening Cockney kingpin that Guy Ritchie prefers. He’s actually the kind of distracting minor character the director tends to kill off in the process of resolving his ensemble gangster flicks. But not only does the avulsive Coach, played by Colin Farrell, survive The Gentlemen—he might be the most memorable part of the whole movie despite his limited screen time.
Coach—just “Coach”—looks a little past it, really. He’s graying up top and getting doughy around the middle, but putting kids through their paces down at the boxing gym keeps him in shape. Coach is an ornery man’s man, and cartoonishly so: He’s dogmatic both in fashion and outlook, which you gather from his Burberry tracksuit that’s a size or two too small and his religious objection to letting a teachable moment pass. He’s never too busy for a “training session,” not even when he’s queuing for a burger and fries: We meet Coach when he’s attacked by a gang of wayward teens at a restaurant, first emotionally, and then physically, with box cutters. It’s the sort of action-film diner stand-off that typically careens into a full-on brawl with broken tables, bones, and glassware. Instead, the confrontation collapses on itself as Coach proceeds to instruct the youths on how to splash an opp properly—commit to stabbing the guy, don’t dance—and then invites them down to his gym.
Coach is so much fun, I think, because Farrell hasn’t gotten to be fun in recent years. Actually, Farrell’s last few years have been quite a bummer. Let’s start with 2014’s Winter’s Tale, in which he plays a burglar who shares a forbidden love with an heiress, who then dies in his arms. We all remember Ray Velcoro, who spent most of True Detective’s abysmal second season stumbling through his own id, which occasionally meant necking a fifth of whiskey and shadow-boxing to the New York Dolls. He was dutifully anonymous in Fantastic Beasts, and both Roman J. Israel, Esq.’s George Pierce and Widows’ Jack Mulligan were the same sort of sad, confused white savior defined by “good intent,” with a tendency toward anxiety, avoidance, and indignation. The last time Farrell seemed to enjoy himself on screen was 2012’s totally incoherent Seven Psychopaths. He played Marty, an alcoholic screenwriter whose real job was managing Sam Rockwell’s mania.
In Guy Ritchie movies, big names drop in for extravagant roles that upend our perceptions of the actors. For instance, you think of Jason Statham as the kind of guy who can solve any problem with a handbrake turn, a roundhouse kick, or a menacing eyebrow lift. In 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, before he was Frank Martin, he he was “bacon,” all lowercase letters, a man-child living in a rundown flat selling stolen jewelry on the street, barely able to outrun the cops, let alone dispatch an entire army of henchmen using only bike pedals and motor oil. By 2000, Brad Pitt was the enviable Tyler Durden, a fast-talking anarchist symbol for men who drink Mountain Dew and feel strongly about consumerism. Snatch kept the bare-knuckle boxing, but covered Pitt in tattoos, gave him crooked-er teeth, and made him impossible to understand. Charlie Hunnam’s last starring role before 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword—which orphaned the born-king, raised him in a brothel, and gave him cool karate moves—was 2016’s The Lost City of Z, a gorgeous, boring, true-life drama about Major Percival Fawcett, a British explorer who disappeared in the Amazon in the 1920s.
Hunnam is in The Gentlemen as Raymond, the no. 2 to Matthew McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson, the American weed kingpin of England. The movie centers on a complicated plot involving the two, a slimy tabloid editor named Big Dave (Eddie Marsan), a slimier private investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant), and an incidental gangland war. After a series of big, spendy studio reboots, most recently Aladdin, Ritchie has billed The Gentlemen as a return to his roots, and it is, to a fault. The bantery dialogue and unreliable narrators are welcome; the casual, matter-of-fact racism—the kind a director might try to wave away with the real people actually talk this way caveat—less so. It might make sense that a character of Fletcher’s age would find it funny to introduce Henry Golding’s Dry Eye as the “Chinese, Japanese, Pekingese, Get On Your Fucking Knees” James Bond (Golding is Malay English), but then does every white man in England of a certain age, like so much of the rest of the cast, say “Chinaman”?
But Gentlemen is still a lot of fun, and if for nothing else, you should see it for Colin Farrell’s Coach, a man awash in a world of rules that no one wrote down, abiding to them more closely than anyone else in the movie. He ends up working for Raymond and turning in an MVP performance that includes snatching up the rat that set the entire plot in motion, saving Charlie Hunnam’s life, and orchestrating a satisfying Black Mirror Season 1, Episode 1 pastiche.
This isn’t to say that the movie’s worst tendencies don’t splash onto Coach: There’s a scene in which he explains to one of his pupils that “black cunt” isn’t racist, but a descriptive term of endearment, because said pupil is both black and a cunt. It’s a sentiment that might hold water if elsewhere The Gentlemen didn’t treat Asians, and Asian culture, as disposable. But then the pupil said, “The fact that I’m black has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a cunt,” and I couldn’t help it—I laughed until I saw sparkles.