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Case Number 15552

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RocknRolla: 2-Disc Special Edition

Warner Bros. // 2008 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // January 27th, 2009

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All Rise...

Think before you drink before you drive Judge Paul Pritchard mad.

Editor's Note

Our review of RocknRolla (Blu-Ray), published February 5th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

A Story Of Sex, Thugs and Rock 'n' Roll.

Opening Statement

"People ask the question: what's a RocknRolla? And I tell 'em—it's not about drums, drugs, and hospital drips, oh no. There's more there than that, my friend. We all like a bit of the good life—some the money, some the drugs, other the sex game, the glamour, or the fame. But a RocknRolla, oh, he's different. Why? Because a real RocknRolla wants the fucking lot."

Facts of the Case

Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson, Valkyrie) controls the London underworld. If a deal is going down you can safely assume Lenny is involved. Times are changing though, and Lenny is growing increasingly frustrated by the "immigrants" coming into the country and taking over. One such annoyance is Russian property developer Uri Omovich (Karel Roden, Hellboy), who seeks Lenny's assistance in his latest venture. Seeing there is money to be made, Lenny agrees to work with Uri and, as a gesture of goodwill between the two men, Uri loans Lenny his lucky painting, which Lenny will give back to Uri on completion of the deal.

Things get complicated, however, when a money transfer from Uri to Lenny is intercepted by The Wild Bunch, following a tipoff from Uri's accountant, Stella (Thandie Newton, Crash). The Wild Bunch consists of One Two (Gerard Butler, 300), Mumbles (Idris Elba, The Wire), and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy, Layer Cake). Ironically they owe Lenny a large amount of money after a failed property scam. To make matters worse, Uri's lucky painting has gone missing from Lenny's office, leaving Lenny in a tricky predicament. Fully aware that Uri is not beyond violence, should the situation call for it, Lenny sends his goons out to locate the painting, eventually setting them on the trail of a supposedly dead rocker, Johnny Quidd (Toby Kebbell, Control).

Meanwhile Uri orders a second shipment of money be transferred to Lenny, and again Stella tips off The Wild Bunch. Things are different this time, since Uri has hired protection in the form of two, apparently invincible, Russian mercenaries. With The Wild Bunch needing the job to pay off Lenny, and Uri quickly demanding his painting back after deciding his bout of bad luck is down to him no longer possessing it, all parties are quickly drawn into a world of double-crosses, junkies, and death by crayfish.

The Evidence

Guy Ritchie's movies are often labeled as being Tarantinoesque, but what, exactly, does the term actually mean? I ask because as much as I love the films of Quentin Tarantino, from Reservoir Dogs to Death Proof, he hardly sets the world alight with originality. Thus comparisons to his work seem odd. Flair? Oh yes, he's got that. He also possesses the wonderful ability to litter his screenplays with endlessly quotable dialogue and classic characters. He clearly shares a love for life's seedier characters. Yet with all those positives there's still the feeling that his movies are not much more than homages to his cinematic idols. Put another way, he isn't a Capra, Coppola, or Spielberg. If we are to be a little more contemporary in our picks, he isn't a Fincher, Aranofsky, or Miike. Whereas those directors feel almost vital to cinema's past and present, Tarantino has yet to produce anything that stands on its own; his films are chock-full of neon-lit references to his favorite movies and show a limited range. Yes, both men bathe in similar waters in terms of the characters that populate their stories, but then so do the (gangster) films of Martin Scorcese, whose work would appear to be far more influential. So how is it that Ritchie and his works get lumped with the Tarantinoesque label, when Tarantino's work is so derivative itself? Is it just a case of bad timing for Ritchie, or is it simply a lazy comparison?

Following the disappointing Revolver and the much maligned Swept Away, writer/director Guy Ritchie returns to his roots with RocknRolla, a big, loud, violent gangster movie, and in the process rediscovers his mojo.

The feel of RocknRolla is very much in keeping with Ritchie's best film, Snatch. A multilayered narrative, with larger-than-life characters getting into increasingly violent situations, RocknRolla has a familiarity about it from the start. At its heart, RocknRolla is a fairly straightforward tale. Unfortunately it suffers from a common problem: Ritchie's penchant for overly complicating the story. By the end of the film there are so many different factions involved that it can become a little confusing. Here's a tip: pay attention during the opening 10 minutes. Trust me, it will pay off.

Past efforts have shown Ritchie has a strong sense of style, but with RocknRolla he ups the stakes considerably. Standing out, and worthy of the inevitable comparisons it will draw to Pulp Fiction, is the dance scene shared by Thandie Newton and Gerard Butler. Set to the sounds of "Waiting For a Train" by Flash and the Pan, the scene oozes cool and humor in equal measure. By way of onscreen graphics we also learn that the dance is a clever ploy, a way for Thandie Newton to pass Butler the details of his next job in a public forum. A chase sequence shortly afterwards, which sees Butler and Co. pursued on foot by two Terminator-like Russian enforcers is full of striking imagery, from the extreme closeups to a silhouetted Butler standing in preparation to confront his enemy. Talking of style, the opening credits are easily the finest of the 2008. While the comic book-inspired artwork fills the screen, Black Strobe's cover of "I'm a Man" blasts from the speakers, perfectly setting the tone for what is to come.

Once you're over the shock that Jason Statham (The Transporter) isn't in the film after having been in three of Ritchie's previous movies, it becomes overtly evident that Ritchie is working with a truly first-rate cast. Frequently I found myself surprised by some of the names cropping up, one minute realizing that Jeremy Piven (Entourage) is in the movie and then getting all excited that Idris Elba, a.k.a. Stringer Bell from The Wire, is playing Mumbles, Gerard Butler's partner in crime. Speaking of Gerard Butler, RocknRolla finds him in fine form with his magnetic charm allowed to run wild, while his natural ability for comedy is called upon frequently. Thandie Newton is perfect as the femme fatale, who can go from icy to smoldering in record time. Taking the crown, however, is Tom Wilkinson as gang boss Lenny Cole. Wilkinson's career seems to have gotten more interesting over recent years, with his role as Carmine Falcone in Batman Begins being a genuinely pleasant surprise. Here Wilkinson proves once again to be an inspired choice, and is genuinely menacing in scenes that see him threatening those who dare to cross him.

Onto the extras and actor Mark Strong joins Ritchie for an infectious commentary track; just don't expect to learn a great deal about the making of the movie. Instead sit back, relax, and listen to two friends having a great time. "Guy's Town" sees Guy Ritchie talk about his love for London, and the changes the city has seen over recent years. Finally, and rounding off a slightly disappointing set of extras, is a deleted scene. A second disc contains a digital copy of the film, ready to be downloaded to your portable media player of choice.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is a little uneven. Often appearing a touch on the soft side, with an intentionally muted color palette, the image lacks much depth. Detail levels are reasonable, though, and the DVD contains rich black levels. The 5.1 soundtrack is given plenty of opportunities to stretch its legs, and does little to disappoint. The Subways turn up to perform "Rock 'n' Roll Queen" during a nightclub scene, and set the highpoint for the disc's audio.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As previously mentioned, RocknRolla has a lot going on and features a lot of characters, perhaps a few too many as it turns out. Each character plays out like a stereotype and none are afforded the time needed to significantly flesh them out.

Closing Statement

There's not an ounce of originality and more than a few stumbles in the coincidence-laden plot, but the snappy dialogue and fun performances ultimately win out.

Back in his comfort zone, Ritchie proves he has the ability to make perfectly entertaining movies, but leaves questions about his range up in the air. Rather Tarantinoesque, you might say.

The Verdict

Guilty? Leave it out, guv'nor!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 82
Audio: 89
Extras: 65
Acting: 90
Story: 88
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Crime
• Gangster

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scene
• Featurette
• Digital Copy

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