It interests me creatively, that people are not perfect.

Category: RockNRolla News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: October 19, 2008 | Publication: The Sun Herald (Sydney, Australia) | Author: Jacqueline Maley
Publication/Article Link:The Sun Herald

After a series of dud films, Guy Ritchie returns to his criminal roots, writes Jacqueline Maley.

There was a single moment in the otherwise excruciatingly awkward press conference to launch Guy Ritchie's new film, RocknRolla, when everyone relaxed.

A journalist asked Gerard Butler, the Glaswegian heart-throb who plays the main role in the movie - a street-smart hustler with a quick tongue - what it was like to work with Ritchie.

"I'd always heard Guy was a wanker," Butler said.

"But he wasn't at all. He was absolutely lovely and charming and very easy-going, yet knew how to run a tight ship."

The cast and the assembled media laughed, because Butler had acknowledged the elephant in the room - that unlike other directors, Ritchie comes with a lot of baggage.

People know the 40-year-old Englishman as Mr Madonna, they have read about his private life in the press - including last week's announcement that the couple will divorce - and his last two films were decried as pretentious, self-indulgent flops.

In the British tabloids, Ritchie is an arrogant faux-cockney who has made one good film, the 1998 Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels.

In person, he is quietly good-humoured and gracious in deflecting questions (asked before the divorce announcement) about his uber-famous, soon-to-be ex Madonna.

"Apparently she's very popular," Ritchie says.

"She's gonna be big."

RocknRolla's release in the UK and US came months after the release of the tell-all book written by Madonna's brother, Christopher Ciccone, in which he calls his brother-in-law a homophobe and bully (Ritchie's only comment is that he hasn't read it).

About the same time the book was being publicised, rumours swirled that Madonna was involved in the marriage break-down of New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez.

In addition, Madonna was set to embark on her Sticky & Sweet Tour and there were conflicting rumours that, for his wife's 50th birthday, Ritchie had promised to allow his wife to adopt another child (they already have Rocco, their seven-year-old biological son; David Banda, their adopted three-year-old boy; and Lourdes, Madonna's 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship).

Add to these distractions the shadow of extremely poor critical and commercial responses to his last two films, Swept Away and Revolver, and it is unsurprising that Ritchie returned to safe and familiar ground with his latest.

RocknRolla tells the story of small-time Cockney crooks trying to punch above their weight by getting in on a high-end property scam.

Cue many plot complications, involving an East End crime boss of the old school, played by Tom Wilkinson, and a shady Russian billionaire who, like England's second-richest man, the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, owns a football team and loves art.

Thandie Newton plays the billionaire's glamorous but crooked accountant, who seeks the thrills of crime without any of the risk, and Tony Kebbell is the tortured drug-addicted stepson of Wilkinson's crime boss.

The action unfolds against the back-drop of the enormous financial boom in London over the past decade - a boom that attracted Russian and Middle Eastern oligarchs and caused property prices to rocket. It is not Ritchie's fault that just as his film was released, the credit crunch began to bite in London, bankers started to quaver and property prices dropped off more precipitously that they had in decades.

However, the crunch had the unfortunate effect of making the film seem dated even as it was released.

"The film is reflecting the evolution that I've seen take place in London over the past 20 years," says Ritchie, dressed immaculately in a dark blue linen suit.

"The upper echelons of the property ladder I don't think have cringed at the so-called correction. It's an issue, how much property has gone up. I thought it was worth commenting on."

Ritchie admits that he did the film because he knew there was a market for it, a "warm breeze blowing".

"It's easy. It's fun. It's challenging - and I don't think easy and challenging are mutually exclusive."

Despite his unabashed return to the cockney crime caper genre and his plans for a sequel to RocknRolla, Ritchie is reluctant to be pigeonholed as a director of gangster movies.

He began his career with a short film and since finding success with the hugely popular Lock Stock and its solid follow-up, Snatch, he has sought to broaden his film re{aac}sume{aac}.

He has directed a pop film clip for his wife, remade an Italian film, 2002's Swept Away (which was panned) and made a short film for BMW.

"I think if there's a unifying factor [in my movies], it's something to do with sub-culture," Ritchie says.

"An aspect of our culture that isn't exposed often ... like the gypsies in Snatch."

He says the criminal underworld attracts him not for its own sake but because it presents a short-hand "polarisation" of human character.

"It's not that I'm obsessed with the underworld, it's that I'm obsessed with humans and the way they interact with one another. I think we all are, that's why we go to the cinema."

Ritchie says he is not interested in portraying moral certainties in his films: "I like the dichotomy of being able to feel uncomfortable about the fact that, 'All right, he's a criminal, but I like him.'

"It interests me creatively, that people are not perfect and I think it's easy ... as the middle class, to judge and think how good spirited we are just because we're on the right side of the law."

Ritchie talks a little about his next project - a film about Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey jnr, which has begun shooting in London.

"It's going to be a very stylish movie," he promises.

And with that, he excuses himself, adjusts his cuffs and marches from the room. Very politely, of course.