Ritchie's back in form with 'RocknRolla'
Category: RocknRolla Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: October 28, 2008 | Publication: International Herald Tribune | Author: Editor
For better and for worse, "RocknRolla" is a pretty typical Guy Ritchie movie: intentionally convoluted plotting, eccentric underworld characters, hyperstylized editing and, of course, a killer soundtrack.
It's a blast, as usual, with wildly sexy visual flourishes that harken to the best of his work — "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" — but since the trailers alone make "RocknRolla" look like a parody of a Ritchie film, it makes you wonder what else the writer-director has inside of him.
Oh, wait, we know the answer to that — it was called "Swept Away," an unfortunate byproduct of his time with Madonna.
Ritchie is back on comfortable, familiar footing here with this story of British gangsters who are so busy trying to screw each other over, they don't realize that they're in over their heads. He draws lively performances from his eclectic cast, especially Tom Wilkinson in a hilariously brash turn as Lenny Cole, a bumbling London crime boss; beneath his bald cap and Cockney accent, the esteemed two-time Oscar nominee is nearly unrecognizable.
Orbiting around Lenny is a sundry assortment of lowlifes, schemers and thugs, including an ideally rugged Gerard Butler as a gangster named One Two. (After the overwrought "300" and the ooey-gooey "P.S. I Love You," it's a joy to see Butler in a role that's a perfect fit for his mix of humor and masculinity.) Thandie Newton dazzles as Stella, the sleek, seductive accountant ("the little dangerous accountant," she's called) and Karel Roden is quietly intimidating as Uri, a wealthy Russian property developer whose lucky painting serves as the movie's McGuffin. Mark Strong, perhaps the best part of "Body of Lies," is one of the best parts of "RocknRolla," too, as Lenny's longtime second-in-command.
But Toby Kebbell is the standout as a crack-addicted rock star named Johnny Quid, who's presumed dead, which helps him sell more records than ever before; only he turns out to be very much alive and a prime suspect — and he's the voice of reason.
Ritchie juggles all these characters and their subplots with a story that might just make sense if you take the time to go back and watch the movie again. Uri wants to do a real estate deal in London and he wants Lenny's help. As a showing of good faith, Uri gives Lenny his favorite painting, which ends up being stolen repeatedly. What the artwork depicts doesn't matter — and Ritchie wisely refrains from showing it to us, one of many clever details. Another is the propensity for bad guys to have incongruent stuff playing in their cars at inopportune times — Wang Chung, for example, or a DVD of "Remains of the Day." It's a subtle touch amid the bombast.
Anyway, the painting is gone, as is the money Uri had planned to transfer to Lenny with the sly Stella's help. One Two and his partner, Mumbles (Idris Elba) stumble about on the hunt. Among those who get shaken down for information are Johnny Quid's producers (an underused Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Jeremy Piven, mercifully out of Ari Gold mode). But those guys are fortunate enough not to find themselves on the receiving end of the most inventive violence "RocknRolla" has in store, including a golf-club bludgeoning and Lenny's preferred method of torture, lowering his subjects into a tank of hungry crawfish.
Sorry, what was this movie about again? Oh, never mind.
"RocknRolla," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R for pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality. Running time: 114 minutes. Three stars out of four.