Tom Hardy, Karel Roden
- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
uy Ritchie’s bag of tricks may be limited, but he still makes movies that people love to watch – even if it is essentially the same story every time. It’s no surprise, then, that “RocknRolla” has been so eagerly anticipated by his fans. After the release of “Snatch” in 2000, and his marriage to Madonna that same year, Ritchie seemed to vanish from the scene almost as quickly as he arrived. Sure, there was “Swept Away,” a BMW short film starring Clive Owen, and even an attempt at making a psychological crime thriller with “Revolver,” but they were all huge disappointments.
In the end, it only made the announcement that Ritchie would be returning to the world of the London criminal underground for his next feature that much sweeter. There was always a chance that "RocknRolla" wouldn't deliver, but as it turns out, it was well worth the wait. Ritchie's latest is a top-notch return to form that is just as good as his first two films, and in some cases, even better.
Following in the director’s tradition of creating stories that are more complicated than they need to be, Tom Wilkinson stars as Lenny Cole, an old school gangster turned businessman who’s made his millions in real estate. When two fellow crooks – One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) – try to do the same, they’re unknowingly screwed over by Cole and then forced to return his part of the investment or suffer the consequences. Meanwhile, Cole has just inked another property deal with a Russian named Uri (Karel Roden) who needs help cutting through some red tape, and as a sign of his appreciation, he allows Cole to borrow his lucky painting until the deal is complete. When the money meant for Cole is stolen by One Two and Mumbles in an ironic twist of fate, however, the deal is forced into limbo. The situation is made even worse when Uri’s painting is stolen by a junkie rock star named Johnny Quid (Tony Kebbell), prompting Cole to send his right-hand man Archie (Mark Strong) after Quid’s former managers (Jeremy Piven and Chris Bridges) in order to track down the presumed dead RocknRolla.
If you’re not completely overwhelmed yet, there’s a good chance you will be as even more characters are introduced into the fold, including an untrustworthy accountant (Thandie Newton) and a pair of seemingly indestructible Russian thugs. Still, the story is never so complex that you won’t understand what’s going on. Those familiar with Ritchie’s work know that his films operate in a Seinfeldian fashion – with several smaller stories converging into one big story the further along it gets – and this time around, Ritchie doesn't waste any time in putting the gears into motion. The film is also just as funny, action-packed and thrilling as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” but it’s not nearly as hyper-stylized. That isn’t to say that “RocknRolla” isn’t stamped with Ritchie’s trademark visual style, but he’s clearly matured in the way it’s utilized. There are no more fancy camera tricks just for the sake of looking cool, but rather more unique sequences (like one where he uses onscreen text to relay a muted discussion) that don't feel as out of place.
All the glitter and gloss in the world could be applied to the final product and it still wouldn’t make "RocknRolla" as appealing as its eccentric cast of characters does. Ritchie has crafted some pretty interesting villains in his day, but none have ever played such an important part to the story as Tom Wilkinson does here. Of course, the director never had someone as talented as Wilkinson in the role, and the veteran actor has a field day as the cold-hearted mobster who disciplines his cronies with backhanded slaps and tortures his enemies with American crawfish.
The same goes for Gerard Butler, who proves that he’s just as good of a comedian as he is an action hero. A subplot involving Butler’s character and one of his gay criminal friends is by far one of the highlights of the film, and it’s sure to earn the actor more comedic roles in the future. The rest of the cast is just as superb – especially relative unknown Tony Kebbell as the strung-out rocker – and if the rumors are true, we’ll be seeing a lot more of the “RocknRolla” crew in the future. Let’s hope it’s more than a rumor, because even though Ritchie is no longer living the glamorous life of Madonna’s bitch, at least he’s making good movies again.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
After scaling back the U.S. release of “RocknRolla” because it was deemed “too British,” Warner Bros. has reasserted its indifference with a Blu-ray release that isn’t terrible, but could have been better. The audio commentary with writer/director Guy Ritchie and actor Mark Strong is a good listen, but it would have been nice to include a few more commentaries with the other actors, while the sole deleted scene was best left on the cutting room floor. Also included are two featurettes – one on the making of the film (“Blokes, Birds and Backhands”) and another on the film’s London locations (“Guy’s Town”) – but neither is particularly memorable.