I have a problem. I’ve got 800 words to fill and only a Guy Ritchie film to fill them with. The problem is not that this is a bad movie; in fact it’s effortlessly entertaining. It’s not that the direction is poor, because from whip pans to long tracking shots it’s constantly engaging. The problem is that this is a Guy Ritchie movie, which means 99% of you already know precisely what you’re going to get and whether you’ll like it.
Just to hammer that home, let me add one more pertinent point. It’s not Revolver. Which is shorthand for saying that RockNRolla sees Ritchie back on form and once again navigating the familiar territory of Lock Stock and Snatch, without the pretentious bloat that so infested his last outing. For those still scarred by Revolver’s heavy-handed failings, though, allow me to sooth your concerns with a quick sketch of RockNRolla’s plot.
We begin, as ever, with a motley group of small-time crooks led by One Two. They’re looking to make a big score on the property market, but need the services of mob boss Lenny who can make sure they’re looked after by the corrupt local councillor. A double cross later and Lenny’s setting his guard dog Archie on them. But Lenny’s got his own troubles because the Russian mob are muscling in on his turf and they don’t respect the old school. Throw in half-a-dozen junkies, a stolen painting, a simmering Thandi Newton and Ritchie’s trademark coincidence-driven plot payoffs and you’ve got something that’s as familiar as your mum’s Sunday lunch.
Deviations from the template are few, and easy to miss. Most striking is the exchange of rundown streets and dirty deals so prevalent in the earlier films for skyscrapers and million-pound heists. Even petty-crook One Two, who spends his time dealing cards with best buddies Bob and Mumbles, lives in a swish £500,000 home. As with genre gem, Layer Cake, this is a middle-class gangster flick that’s comfortable in its own skin, unlike Ritchie’s previous efforts which have always worked so hard to smother their education in overblown mockney dialogue.
The other striking aberration from form is One Two’s best mate Handsome Bob, who turns out to be gay. A fact which One Two confronts by slamming on the brakes of his 4×4 and indulging a panicked tirade that’s one of the highlights of the film. A gay gangster in a Ritchie film? Times really are changing. Beyond that, Ritchie’s also bulked out his trademark patter with a few scenes of pure slapstick that bring pouch-clad torture and slow dancing in a gay club to the party. Thankfully, these are subtle changes that sit comfortably within the framework of the film and serve to bring the comedic chops of the actors involved to the fore.
Indeed, one of Ritchie’s biggest, but potentially most neglected, strengths is the performances he pulls from his actors and RockNRolla is no different. Everyone is excellent, though Thandi Newton steals the show with her portrayal of a bored, pouty sophisticate learning to live dangerously. It’s a strange turnaround for the actress, who never seems quite comfortable headlining huge studio efforts such as the diabolical Chronicles of Riddick, but is routinely excellent elsewhere.
So, it’s a Guy Ritchie movie, then. And a good one, but oh so familiar. I liked RockNRolla, but I’ll have forgotten it tomorrow and when he produces the same film again next year, I’ll probably dig out this review, change a few words and wonder whether Ritchie will ever surprise us again. RockNRolla is enough for now, but I’m beginning to tire of the tune.
Extras Commentary Being a geek for DVD commentary, I was genuinely looking forward to hearing Guy Ritchie and actor Mark Strong, who plays Archie, dissect their crime caper. Unfortunately, what we actually get is something closer to an embarrassing love-in between the popular kid and his adoring best mate. The closest we get to insight is Ritchie noting Thandi Newton’s “very pretty” and that King of Scots is the best kind of Scotch, so go and buy it. Strong praises Ritchie for the music, the credits, the shots, the actors, his hair, his trousers, the sky and the colour green. It all becomes very tired, very quickly.
Guy’s London Coming off the back of the commentary I was loath to spend any more time with Guy Ritchie, and thus the wankfest that is “Guy’s London” filled me with dread. As it turns out, the entire thing is a quick scoot around some of the locations used in the film, with Ritchie and minions explaining why they were chosen, how they’ve changed and how this reflects modern London. Let me save you the trouble of watching it with the following quick summation: London’s changed. It’s filled with money. Russians are constructing huge buildings here. The end.
Deleted Scene There’s one deleted scene in which the Wild Bunch convenes to take the piss out of One Two while he’s on a treadmill. Quite why it even made the script, let alone the shoot, baffles me. All the better for being cut.
Overall the extras are remarkably stingy and not terribly interesting.
2 February 2009