STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
• Bonus Digital Copy
• Audio Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• “Guy’s Town” featurette
• “Blokes, Birds, and Backhanders” featurette
Guy Ritchie returns to the world of crooks, guns, and voice-overs. Lots and lots of voice-overs.
Dan’s singing penis was a lucrative organ, although sometimes it only
performed when held at gunpoint.
Cast: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Jeremy Piven, Chris Bridges, Mark Strong, Karel Roden, Toby Kebbell
Director/Writer: Guy Ritchie
A seasoned crime boss with deep pockets and even deeper connections, Lenny (Wilkinson) has been hustling London’s Real Estate market for decades. When he meets with powerful Russian mobster Uri (Roden) to negotiate a high stakes deal, various players emerge to assist or thwart the delicate process: There’s Stella (Newton), the trusted accountant who’s playing both sides for thrills, there’s Archie (Strong), Lenny’s calculating right hand man who just wants to get the job done, and there’s One Two (Butler), the play-it-loose crook who might be more interested in having fun than making money. Meanwhile, a wild card rock star (Kebbell) fakes his death, steals a painting, and sets the stage for a battle between Lenny and Uri.
[Describes most Guy Ritchie movies]
From the opening title cards, featuring mottled guns and splotchy silhouettes of angry gangsters, it’s easy to get the impression that RocknRolla‘s just another gritty gunplay fetish manual. It’s guaranteed to have at least five gunfights, one confession-related amputation, and stock mobster caricatures piled all the way up to the safehouse rafters.
Thankfully, RocknRolla doesn’t care to live up to those title cards. While it still sticks closely to Guy Ritchie’s signature blend of dark comedy, punchy dialogue, and London crime, RocknRolla is surprisingly fun. It places a welcome emphasis on character over gimmick, and while it does succumb to a few indulgences and has its share of problems, it’s worth checking out.
First, a word about the film’s marketing: RocknRolla‘s theatrical poster, showing a grimacing Gerard Butler walking toward what looks like a very zesty ass-whooping session, doesn’t do a great job selling the film for what it is. While Butler’s “One Two” thug isn’t a wimp, he’s hardly the gloomy juggernaut shown on the poster. Much like your childhood dog, One Two is scrappy, loyal, and occasionally dopey; in other words, this role is a great fit for Butler. For an example of Butler in a very bad fit role, please see Attila (2001). And yes, Gerard Butler actually plays Attila the Hun in that movie.
The marketing also falsely implies that Butler is the star of the film. He’s definitely one of the leads, but RocknRolla spends equal time with Wilkinson’s Lenny, Strong’s Archie, and Kebbell’s rock star. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Lenny gets the most screen time out of everyone. He’s essentially a much lighter take on The Departed‘s Frank Costello. Anyway, the ensemble approach works well. Nobody has to rely too much on Butler, and they’re all given interesting things to do. Aside from the leads, RocknRolla also gives us a wealth of interesting supporting characters, like One Two’s closeted best friend and accomplice, a pair of vicious Serbian war criminals, and an array of junkies, bouncers, and underlings.
The story weaves the various underworld characters (One Two, Lenny, Archie) into a marginally convoluted “find the MacGuffin” plot about a stolen painting, a duplicitous accountant, and the rock star, who we discover might have a gangster-connected past. The MacGuffin plot is lame, but the characters working within it manage to make it fresh. Ritchie wisely eschewed archetypal tough guy stuff when writing Butler’s character, and he’s so much more fun to watch as a result. One Two has a definite (if malleable) conscience, and his relationship with his gay friend almost turns shocking. Lenny’s shifts between arrogant crime boss and pathetic weasel are also satisfying, as is Stella’s indifference to stealing millions from her criminal employers. It’s probably the lightest out of all of Ritchie’s crime films, as it’s nearly bloodless, and even its darkest characters have a sense of humor. The scar-swapping scene between the Serbian war criminals might have been an obvious homage to Jaws, but it’s a highlight. RocknRolla is a pretty movie, too; Ritchie’s obviously in love with London, and he features the famous sights and sounds of the city in really gorgeous ways.
There are a few problems. RocknRolla‘s dialogue often drifts from the genuinely witty into the cliche, with lines like “Ooh, tres chic!” cluttering up otherwise well written discussions. The film is stronger when it’s not too desperately stylish.
Some of the characters don’t fit in at all. When Lenny’s hunting for the missing rock star, he ropes in two wisecracking record producers (Jeremy Piven, Chris Bridges) to assist, neither of whom add much to the story. In a film already jam packed with characters, their scenes are just time spent on the sidelines. Rocknrolla might have missed a few opportunities, as well. Ritchie took an easy cop-out with One Two’s gay friend subplot, and he still relies way too much on characterization through unnecessary voice-overs.
In all, though, RocknRolla‘s a fun package, and a worthy addition to a Richie fan’s collection. It’s not a crime epic that will curl anyone’s toes, but it’s certainly worth a two hour investment. It’s also reasonable to say that if you don’t like Ritchie’s other crime movies, you probably won’t like this one, either.
Notably, RocknRolla broke the infamous “(Thandie) Newton’s First Law of Suck”, which describes her perpetual habit of only appearing in awful films.
RocknRolla stuns in 1080p. Shots of the London skyline stand out as some of the best I’ve seen on the format, and the audio is nearly faultless.
Bonus Features include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, a look at Ritchie’s fascination with London, and a short making-of featurette. There’s also a bonus digital copy.
The cover art is less misleading than the theatrical poster, but it still isn’t very interesting.
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