16 September 2008

Rocknrolla Review

There have been a lot of comebacks in the last year. Batman has suddenly – and rather inexplicably in the case of some fads – become ridiculously cool once again; Rambo proved that even if you gun down 236 Burmese militia, you can’t win the hearts of critics; and Indy showed that he still had a few cracks of the whip left in him. Is this Guy Ritchie joining the Caped Cruscader in the pantheon of great comebacks? Or is this the final straw after Swept Away and Revolver? Well, the answer is neither.

So what, exactly, is it? Yes, I can hear you from here. Well, it’s a step back, but he hasn’t crossed the finish line. Yet. It shows flashes of the brilliance that made Lock, Stock… and Snatch so very entertaining – multilayered story; sharp, blackly comic dialogue; interesting, well developed characters – and yet somehow isn’t nearly as good as them.

It cocks it up on two counts. First, the story – whilst indeed multilayered and interchanging – isn’t half as tight as it should be. There’re a couple of completely redundant story threads that could easily have been amalgamated into the others – I won’t give them away here, as they are pivotal in the story, but they should’ve been incorporated into the other threads, instead of having their own dedicated ones. It also suffers from the so-called ‘flabby opening’ syndrome; featuring none of the drive and focus that decorated his first two films, instead choosing to be rather broad and rather schizophrenic in which story threads it shows us and when.

The second is that fact that Ritchie is still sat under the delusion that allowed Revolver to start bubbling in his mental cauldron. It’s the delusion that he’s an arty film-maker – and whilst it’s starting to wear off, thanks to the lambasting that Revolver got, ‘t’would seem that a few dregs of it still held fast during the conception of Rocknrolla. It seems to aspire to a higher sense of purpose, that it means something, what with the musings on life, the universe and everything rolling from his characters lips. The only one that holds true is a particularly well written speech from the titular Rocknrolla, Johnny Quid, about the juxtapositional nature of a cigarette box, then comparing it to his present predicament. It’s the only piece of pretension that actually works, and it just goes to show that, in measured amounts, pretentiousness shouldn’t be a bad thing.

This isn’t, however, to say that the movie is unwatchable. Every character is well fleshed out, and performed competently at the very least. The only stand-out is Toby Kebbell’s Johnny Quid – Kebbell putting in a fiercely intelligent performance of a wise-cracking, emotional cripple that really is something of a proverbial diamond in the rough. The rest of the characters – whilst well written in and of themselves – are given precious little to do in the grand scheme of things, their minor antics all contributing to the over-arching plot, but seeming to lack any drive and purpose beyond ‘because it needs to be in the film’. There's a lot of potential here, but it's simply not capitalised on.

But, at about 45-minutes in, something magical happens - the focus suddenly kicks in, and the story tightens up. If ‘it’s about bloody time’ doesn’t roll across your thoughts, you probably weren’t paying attention. What follows is – to tentatively use the term – vintage Richie. All mockney quips, black comedy and ingenious plot turns. It’s also where some of the action kicks in, including an absolutely brilliant sequence involving One-Two (Gerard Butler doing his thang) Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy understating to the max) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) out-running some Russian mafiosos in a pulse-pounding sequence which involves some fantastic action and a huge dollop of Ritchie’s trademark humour that is particularly pleasing.

Ultimately, however, the movie neatly sums itself up just before the credits roll, claiming ‘Archie, Johnny and the Wild Bunch will be back in The Real RocknRolla'. If this isn’t a frank admission that Ritchie could’ve done better with such a rich cast playing such interesting characters, then I don’t know what is. So if Guy Ritchie himself admits it…well, it must be true. I’n’it?

Ross’ Rating: 6/10

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