– Summary –
Director : Guy Ritchie
Cast : Gerald Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Toby Kebbell, Idris Elba, Karel Roden, Dragan Micanovic, David Bark-Jones, Matt King, Gemma Arterton, Chris Bridges, Jeremy Piven, Jimi Mistry,
Year of Release : 2008
Length : 109 Minutes
Synopsis: When a valuable painting belonging to a visiting Russian crime czar is stolen from a local gangster, the race is on to recoup it before the killing begins.
Review : Amusing, to be sure. But ultimately, nothing new under the sun here. Ritchie knows how to create memorable characters, but he needs to broaden his cinematic horizons. This film triptych indicates Ritchie seems incapable of doing much else in the Crime Caper genre.
Guy Ritchie is an enigma. When he first burst onto the scene with his breakout crime caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, great things were predicted to come from him. Indeed, his follow-up film, Snatch, seemed to indicate a stylish, creative force was on the way up. Then came the dreary dog of a film, Swept Away, which teamed Ritchie and his new wife Madonna, only for it to be swept onto the rocky reef of critical derision and Razzie awards. A pause, lasting years, came and went, before Ritchie unleashed on us all Rock’n’Rolla, before his first true “blockbuster”, Sherlock Holmes, came to cinema screens earlier this year.
Rock’n’Rolla represents safe territory for Ritchie, something I think short-changes his fans and empowers his detractors. Set once again in the familiar British crime underground, featuring modern gangsters and men of ill repute, the film is a simple enough caper “comedy” that does little to stretch either Ritchie as a director, nor us as viewers. The template, Mr Ritchie, is beginning to wear thin. Which is why I consider him to be an enigma. His crime films are genuinely cool, expertly directed and filled with enough class and style to make many Hollywood hacks blush with inadequacy. His other, more mainstream films, have been generally unsuccessful, at least critically, if not financially.
Gerard Butler stars in Rock’n’Rolla as One Two, a two-bit hood living in London who seeks to climb the underworld ladder by implementing a grand scheme to steal a valuable painting (and cash) from local gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson in overkill mode). The painting actually belongs to Russian crime czar Iru (Karel Roden), who is none to please to find it stolen. Lenny, unaware of the identity of the thieves, uses One Two and his gang, The Wild Bunch, to locate the painting, which leads to multiple double crossings and dealings that circle back on themselves before the film is over. The films plot isn’t exactly central to the films style, which oozes from almost every frame. Ritchie knows just how to stage a scene, especially a violent one, as he proved so well in Lock, Stock and even moreso in Snatch. Here, though, even the violence is secondary to the films intentions.
Rock’nRolla is a film many would say is “too clever by half”, that is, it’s a film so preoccupied with it’s own importance, it forgets to say anything meaningful. Self indulgence aside, Rock’n’Rolla is a fairly empty affair that is forgotten as soon as the closing credits start up. The characters aren’t exactly likeable, and those that are shouldn’t be: not even the normally excellent Thandie Newton (as a crooked accountant) is enough to spark this film up. The cast do a decent job with the script, which weaves fate and coincidence together in ways both impossible and implausible: a fantastical world only Guy Ritchie seems able to tap in to. Wilkinson, as the pivot on which all the story links hinge, overblows his performance here by an order of magnitude. It’s hard to determine if he’s serious or trying to be funny. Jeremy Piven, as a record producer involved with Lenny’s estranged son (who happens to be a major music “star”) looks like he’s wandered into the wrong film, for all his eye rolling and sighing. A small positive: Butler and Newtons chemistry is pretty sweet, and it’s a crime Ritchie didn’t give them more time on-screen together. Mark Strong, who we recently saw in the Emily Blunt starrer The Young Victoria, is great as Lenny’s standover man.
Ultimately, though Rock’n’Rolla is an entirely unremarkable entry into the caper genre, a genre itself reinvigorated by Ritchie himself with Lock, Stock. While Ritchie may have style to burn, the ideas presented in this film are knock-offs of previous cinematic outings (by both Ritchie himself and others since Lock, Stock came out) that ultimately feel a little try-hard. The “cleverness” of the script, and the viewers’ acceptance of it, depends greatly on your tolerance for this genre of film, and while certainly a cut above the majority, for Ritchie it represents perhaps the slamming of the door on him making more caper films in future. The fact that the films closing credits indicate a sequel to be made at some point is now, perhaps, irrelevant.
By grinding his talent into a remake of a remake (this film is a reworking of Snatch, which itself is a remake of Lock, Stock), Guy Ritchie has discovered that perhaps his audience has outgrown his obsession with caper films like this. Rock’n’Rolla feels forced, a series of vignettes that seem included simply for the sake of being included; the circular plot is meticulously crafted and yet ultimately uninvolving. The drama and tension we saw in Snatch, Ritchie’s last great film, is missing here, swapped for clever dialogue that has little to say. Ultimately, if you enjoyed Snatch and Lock, Stock, you’ll find plenty to enjoy about Rock’n’Rolla; but this film never attains the heights its predecessors did.