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Gangster Guy hits the mark in RocknRolla

Category: RocknRolla Reviews
Article Date: September 4, 2008 | Publication: Evening Standard | Author: Charlotte O'Sullivan
Source: Evening Standard

Posted by: admin

If success is nine-tenths timing then Guy Ritchie’s latest guns ’n’ geezers gangster flick gets off to the worst possible start. “London, the capital of the world,” intones a gravel-voiced narrator. “Property values have gone way up ... it’s all going one way!” Ah, yes, London’s property boom. Turns out that the whole film hinges on a reality now at least a year out of date.

Almost as excruciating is the entrance of Tom Wilkinson, as dodgy, supposedly scary property tycoon Lenny. Somehow he manages to impress Russian crimelord Uri Obromavich (Karel Roden) and terrify his goons. He’s riled because someone has stolen the painting that Uri gave him. As MacGuffins go, this one exerts zero pull.

The film is heavily indebted to Trainspotting, plus the entire works of Scorsese and Tarantino. To describe the violence as cartoonish is an insult to cartoons.

Ritchie tends to be seen as a British golden boy ruined by US interference — when he married control-queen Madonna, so the theory goes, he lost his cojones.

Yet RocknRolla, which has already been dubbed a turkey by many British critics, actually has some neat tricks up its sleeve. It is — every now and again — supremely entertaining.

For me, the adulation heaped on the mediocre little frame of Ritchie’s first film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, was nauseating. That the equally slight Snatch and Revolver sank without trace was simply proof that the world’s sanity had been restored. The surprise is that, several years on, the director has learned a few lessons. At long last, it seems, he’s been infected by his wife’s gutsy brand of nous.

The script, which he wrote, offers two heroes: crumpled ex-con One Two (Gerard Butler) and psychotic druggie Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell). Both parts are expertly played and having two charismatic leads creates a nice tension — we’re not sure who to focus on, we’re not sure who will survive.

There’s no need to follow the silly plot, however, just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere, which, alternately manic and blasted, seeps from the screen like dry ice.

At one point, Butler and Thandie Newton — as Uri’s haughty, naughty accountant, Stella — do a kind of slo-mo breakdance. It’s exciting to watch, like the twist sequence in Pulp Fiction. Yet it’s the coldness of the chemistry that makes it stick in your brain.

RocknRolla has another unexpected ingredient. A sub-plot involves cute crim Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), who turns out to be in love with One Two. Many of the ensuing gags are predictable. And no prizes for guessing that their relationship remains unconsummated. But lazy sparks do fly. In fact, a clinch between the two men — shot with the kind of kitsch pizzazz usually found only in Jean Paul Gaultier ads — provides the film with its one moment of warmth.

Some will argue that Ritchie is following the lead of Sexy Beast and Gangster No 1 in offering a “tolerant” take on homosexuality. But there’s something more visceral at work. RocknRolla plays like the unthinking man’s Performance. Cockneys and yuppies, toffs and tossers, beefcakes and gays, junkies and public-school nerds ... The lines between these groups are blurred by sex and drugs. And they’re never entirely straightened out.

Look out, too, for a nice in-joke. One Two’s hardcore mate, Tank, loves watching DVDs of old British films such as The Remains of the Day. Tank watches Hugh Grant’s rabid over-acting with awestruck delight. We’re meant to thank God we’re not watching an “exquisite” British costume drama.

RocknRolla did not leave me wanting more (the last shot promises a sequel is on its way). Still, its confidence is impressive. London’s property bubble may have burst but Ritchie’s career is definitely on the rise.


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