I’m no “Guy Ritchie Hater”, it has to be said. Swept Away and Revolver were admittedly awful, and I mean awful, movies but I do have a soft spot for both Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. In fact, watch those two movies (his undeniably audacious debut and his stellar “difficult second movie”) back to back or in close proximity to each other and you’ll see a couple of things become apparent:
1. Snatch is the unarguably stronger of the two movies.
2. He has a great visual eye.
3. He has a “tone” for his films that can become very stale, very fast.
4. He can never quite balance his labrinyth plotting with his cartoon-level characters and his zinger-ridden dialogue. One is always drowning out the others.
We’re being told that RocknRolla is a “return to form” for Mr Ritchie after his dalliances in “doing what his (now ex) wife tells him to” (i.e. Swept Away) and “tossing himself onto celluloid then telling everyone who thought it was shit that they just didn’t ‘get’ it” (i.e. Revolver). What this actually means is that this film is a return to Ritchie cuddling back into his ‘comfort blanket’ of “just like Snatch and Lock Stock”.
And, for whatever enjoyable qualities this film possesses, it is very much “just like” his first two movies – especially in the sense that Snatch is STILL the strongest movie he has made, it is still very evident he has a great visual eye, his cinematic “tone” is very slap-dash bouncing as it does between annoying, amusing and completely flat AND, yet again, he never quite balances his labrinyth plotting with his cartoon-level characters and his zinger-ridden dialogue. One is always drowning out the others.
This time around we’re back in Ritchie’s London, where a real-estate scam puts millions of pounds up for grabs, attracting some of the city’s scrappiest tough guys and its more established underworld types, all of whom are looking to get rich quick. While the city’s seasoned criminals vie for the cash, an unexpected player – a drugged out rock ‘n’ roller presumed to be dead but very much alive – has a multi-million dollar prize, and the key to the success of the whole scam, fall into his hands.
Cast as it is with genuinely enjoyable performers like Gerard Butler, Toby Kebbel, Mark Strong, Tom Wilkinson, Jeremy Piven and… I could go on, it is resolutely impossible to dislike RocknRolla. It’s shot with such a visual ferocity and a bullet-fast pace that it doesn’t entertain you, it bludgeons you into enjoying yourself. And whilst it is impossible to dislike, it is also difficult to love outright.
It has a plot that thinks it is cleverer then it actually is – when you’ve seen Ritchie pull this stuff together in Lock Stock AND Snatch you can kind of follow proceedings quite easily this time out. Film-viewers learn fast you know? It is also another movie that proves Ritchie, for all his quirky turns of phrase and the like when it comes to dialogue, cannot write female characters for shit. Gemma Atherton is in this. You know? The last “Bond Girl”? She’s a frigging ‘Tea Lady’ with two lines of dialogue. Thandie Newton is also woefully betrayed by a part that just asks her to be a “femme fatale” of sorts without giving anything on the page to back her up. On top of all of this it has a twist you can see coming from an absolute mile and a subplot involving the sexuality of one character that is just utterly bizarre, out of place and completely aggravating.
Yet it says something for “The Wild Bunch” that Ritchie has created, along with yet ANOTHER sublime performance from Mark Strong and his level of visual inventiveness that – when the ‘sequel teasing’ title card came up at the end – I kind of shrugged, nodded and thought “Yeah, I’d like to see more of these guys!” I have quite high hopes for Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and I think it could well be the making of him to be honest. Especially when you watch this and you can see a director almost ‘coasting’ along on autopilot, playing in the ‘back garden’, making something flawed yet effortlessly entertaining but just itching to be given the chance for the proverbial gate to be opened and for him to run free with the ‘big boys’. Sherlock Holmes is his chance. RocknRolla is the calling card that suggests he’s found the form to make it decent.