Guy Ritchie on "RocknRolla"

Category: RockNRolla News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: August 20, 2008 | Publication: Time Out | Author: Wally Hammond
Publication/Article Link:Time Out

As famous for his judo, karate and jujitsu skills, his dyslexia and his wife as he is for his pair of London gangster ‘entertainments’, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’, Hatfield-born Guy Ritchie’s film career seemed to take a nose-dive with the undistributed ‘Swept Away’ and Kabbalah-coded ‘Revolver’. Thankfully, writes Wally Hammond, his latest, ‘RocknRolla’ sees him safely back in his old manor, among the familiar carnival of villains, scams and high-octane spills and thrills
My favourite film reading has long been the ‘guilty pleasures’ slot in the American magazine Film Comment where the likes of Martin Scorsese have described their fondness for such pilloried cinematic excursions as ‘One Million BC’ or ‘The Vampire Circus’. The films chosen, in the words of the great director ‘are not good. They’re guilty. But there are things in them that make you like them.’

This is not my view exactly of Guy Ritchie’s films. And certainly not how I explain myself to the unfairly disparaged ‘mockney’ director when
I meet him to discuss his new film down at his local London ‘boozer’ – which turns out to be the surprisingly upmarket The Punch Bowl in Mayfair, which he owns and where I can overhear cut-glass accents discussing promotional launches or perusing menus offering soup at £10 a bowl.

I like his films (excepting, of course, ‘Revolver’, which I hid from, and ‘Swept Away’, which managed to hide from me), finding them funny, intriguingly and seductively old-fashioned despite their jump-cut MTV trappings. I especially enjoy their teasing non-PC provocations on matters of class, sex, race and violence (which I assume are aimed straight at vaguely lefty, middle-class pedants such as myself). But I admit, within my small circle of friends and colleagues, I find myself an isolated, lone champion.

Looking for an ally, however, I find Ritchie, disappointingly, an inarticulate advocate in his own defence. Looking so assured, sitting in his three-piece suit and barking orders to his waiters, it seems strange that he is so adept at tying himself up in knots. The narrative strands of ‘RocknRolla’ – which sees Gerard Butler’s amusingly self-effacing minor criminal One-Two caught between the rock of Karel Roden’s menacing Russian millionaire and the hard place of Tom Wilkinson’s ‘headmaster of the old school’ gangster Lenny Cole – are as twisted and confusing as in his indecipherable last outing ‘Revolver’.

‘I think some time ago I set myself up for making scripts complicated,’ Ritchie explains, ‘because I’m interested in convoluted narrative. I like being able to jump into one story then jump back into another one. When I first started writing scripts, they were convoluted. And, ever since then, I’m only satisfied if I’m writing quite convoluted scripts. But I quite like reading unconvoluted scripts. But with me, I’m afraid I’ve set myself up for – yeah – convoluted ones.’

Ritchie is better discussing the connections ‘RocknRolla’ has with John Mackenzie’s ‘The Long Good Friday’, in their shared ways of looking at the changing landscape of London.

‘London seems to have changed such a lot in the past 20 years. I read an article on London by an American, which sparked my interest. And having spent quite a lot of time in the US I became aware of the disparity between now and 20 years ago. I was interested in reflecting that. So the Russian thing. And the whole idea that more money is made in houses, in property, more than in anything else.’

But, as the interview develops, I must admit to succumbing to that sinking feeling. My positive prompts – I say I see him in a long tradition of irreverent, class-tickling English comedy, stretching back to Ealing and beyond – are greeted with sidesteps in which he insists on presenting
himself as unreconstructed man. Take for instance his response to my question on the representation of violence in his films.

‘The pencil?’ We’re discussing the use of one as a weapon. ‘Somebody once told me the story of a junkie stabbing the life out of someone with a pencil. And it was some stringy streak of piss who launched into a doorman with a pencil. And the doorman was outclassed. The skinny junkie with a pencil. I thought that was a funny idea.’

Or my suggestion that he is at his best dealing with group psychology and that he would be good at making war movies. Midway through outlining the two war films he has on the menu – alongside the 1890s-set Sherlock Holmes project he’s already announced – he again goes disconcertingly off-message. ‘A man often likes the piss taken out of himself by the group,’ he tells me. ‘But if there is a woman there, the dynamic changes. So I like the idea that men can feel so comfortable within their own company. They are happy to show their underside and don’t mind getting a good kicking in their underbelly.’

Ritchie is clearly not playing my game. I had come to praise Caesar not bury him. But, by the end of the interview, I no longer felt quite as comfortable in his company, nor with my own admiration for his films.

‘RocknRolla’ opens on Sept 5.