Wednesday, 3 September 2008

RockNRolla: The Review

Guy Ritchie has cut rather a sad figure in recent years. The hot young director who Madonna first met in Sting’s country mansion, and then married, has failed to live up to his early promise. His last film Swept Away was a straight-to-video disaster, even though it featured Madonna herself. It’s unlikely she has forgiven him for it.

Ritchie has made no bones about RockNRolla – he’s taken the wheels off his first film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and fitted them to more-or-less the same vehicle. Just days before the premiere the film in London, England, there's talk of those self-same wheels coming off already. The chief operating officer of Warner Bros poured scorn on its commercial viability and authorized what is effectively an arthouse, limited release across the USA.

The story is vintage Ritchie – London East End gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) tries to do a deal with a Russian oligarch Uri (Czech actor Karel Roden as an uncanny Roman Abramovich lookalike) who operates on a criminal level old-fashioned Lenny can barely understand. At the same time Lenny’s reviled stepson goes missing, a crack-headed rockstar with a death-wish, and the Russian oligarch’s ‘lucky painting’ is stolen.

Drawing all these strands together is the story of ordinary low-level criminals One Two (Gerard Butler) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) who are wheeling and dealing around these much bigger fish. Then there’s Stella played by Thandie Newton, who is Uri’s ‘accountant’. She’s playing a dangerous and double game.

Though Ritchie is often thought of as an inferior kind of Quentin Tarantino, he’s actually very careful not to show gruesome violence, even though he has Tarantino’s love of fast edits (which Tarantino in turn ripped off from Hong Kong directors such as Tsui Hark).

In fact Ritchie take almost all of his cues from The Godfather and The Long Good Friday; the trouble in the intercut scenes work well as the finale of Godfather II, but Ritchie does it all the way through. It’s exhausting, like ADD writ large.

Acting wise Tom Wilkinson as the grotesque cockney crook is supremely menacing, quite jowl-shakingly bald and brilliant. Thandie Newton does a kind of wooden sexy girl thing and doesn’t exactly extend her range. Everyone else is interchangeable.

The script (by Ritchie) is by-the-numbers where people ‘shake like cocktails’ and ‘sweat like semtex’. You can sense Ritchie probably thinking these are brilliant lines. They sound like a succession of little pats on the back. But they aren’t brilliant. They’re tired and lazy. As is the predictable sound-track. Everything about it is out-of-date and out-of-touch.

Described by some as a return to form - but the form in question wasn't that good in the first place.

** two stars out of five

No comments: