When he's not reviewing DVDs, Judge Clark Douglas breeds savage crayfish for London mobsters.
Our review of RocknRolla: 2-Disc Special Edition, published January 27th, 2009, is also available.
A story of sex, thugs, and rock n' roll.
"Oh, beauty is a beguiling call to death and I'm addicted to the sweet pitch of it's siren."
Facts of the Case
Oh, bloody hell. Providing a plot description for a Guy Ritchie film is a near impossible task, but I'll give it my best shot. Bear with me.
A tough guy named Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson, Cassandra's Dream) is the top mob boss in London. Lenny does what he can to try and maintain a sense of order and decency amongst London's criminal class, and generally has a finger or two in pretty much every pot worth having a finger in. However, Lenny may not be the top guy around anymore. Some Russians have come into town, and they seem to be pretty well-connected. The top Russian guy is Uri (Karl Roden), who requests a favor of Lenny. Uri wants to build an arena in London, but needs to make sure that he can get the hard-to-obtain building permits. Lenny agrees to help Uri out for a fee of $7 million. Who is helping who in this scenario? Opinions on that issue are split on both sides. To help smooth over the transaction, Uri decides to lend Lenny his favorite painting. "It's my lucky painting," he says. "Hang onto it until the transaction is complete."
Lenny appreciatively accepts the painting, and hangs in on the wall above his desk. The next day, the painting is missing. Apparently, it was stolen by none other than Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell, Match Point), Lenny's wild and rebellious rock star step-son. Some think that this is unlikely, due to the fact that the newspaper recently declared Johnny dead. Lenny knows better. Johnny's never dead. He's just hiding somewhere, and he's got that bloody painting. He begins by contacting Johnny's former business managers, Mickey (Chris Bridges, Crash) and Roman (Jeremy Piven, Smokin' Aces).
Things start to get even more problematic when Uri's $7 million is stolen by three thugs known as "The Wild Bunch": One-Two (Gerard Butler, 300), Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy, Marie Antoinette), and Mumbles (Idris Elba, American Gangster). This irritates everyone on both sides of the fence, but it can be dealt with. The Russians have more where that came from. They call for another $7 million, and that load is stolen once again by the exact same crew. Well, that's no good. Lenny begins to suspect that Uri is holding out, and Uri begins to suspect that Lenny is responsible for the two robberies.
And that's the over-simplified version. I haven't even told you about the beautiful accountant (Thandie Newton, Crash), the mysterious informant that keeps getting everyone in trouble, Lennie's loyal assistant (Mark Strong, Body of Lies), the gay lawyer who knows the secret identity of the mysterious informant, and so many other assorted odds and ends. Suffice it to say that a lot of people will be betrayed, some people will make some money, some people will wind up dead, some people will simply get spun around for a while and then thrown back into the corner. These are some real RocknRollas.
I was one of many who thought that Guy Ritchie was washed up. After the absolutely dreadful Swept Away and the borderline incoherent Revolver, I began to think that Ritchie's best days were behind him. I'm rather relieved to discover that RocknRolla is a noteworthy return to form for the high-octane director. Though it will certainly feel a bit familiar to those who have seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, the film is a real blast from start to finish, and boasts a fine cast of actors who seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
In terms of characters, RocknRolla is blessed with an embarrassment of riches. There are so many compelling individuals here. Chief among them is Lenny Cole, essayed by Tom Wilkinson with a gleeful ruthlessness. Wilkinson has become one of my favorite actors over the course of the past decade, and here demonstrates his versatility. He has the ability to seem immensely warm, wise, and trustworthy (as in The Exorcism of Emily Rose), but here Wilkinson demonstrates a new combination of nasty, funny, and scary. His presence looms over the entire movie. Though RocknRolla is accurately described as an ensemble piece, it feels like Wilkinson is the lead, simply because he manages to make such a strong impression.
That's quite a noteworthy accomplishment in a film so packed with interesting characters. Gerard Butler's One-Two is very funny in a low-key way, particularly during the scene in which his ruthless verbal abuse of a gay man slowly turns into eager curiosity. Toby Kebbell is very striking in what will undoubtedly be remembered as his breakout role, and he shares some particularly good moments with the suave (and immensely nuanced) Mark Strong. Thandie Newton lights up the screen every time she appears, and I found the small performance of a fellow named Nonso Anozie nothing short of hilarious (he has a terrific little monologue about the "new and improved picture quality" on the most recent DVD release of The Remains of the Day). The plot may lose you at times, but there are dozens and dozens of little pleasures to be had from start to finish courtesy of the colorful characters on display. The only actors who don't make much of an impression are Jeremy Piven and Chris Bridges, probably because they have the disadvantage of being Americans stuck in the middle of a British gangster flick.
Ritchie is known for his rather hyper visual style, but I was pleasantly surprised by how focused he seems to be here. Sure, the movie has a lot of energy, but the shots are steady, and the editing won't give you a Bourne-style headache. The film looks rather sharp in hi-def, with deep blacks and crisp colors. Background detail is excellent, and flesh tones are pretty accurate. Very bold color choices throughout could have looked garish with a sub-par transfer, but fortunately this disc delivers. My only disappointment was that facial detail seemed a bit lacking. Audio is effective throughout, though perhaps a good deal less energetic than you might expect it to be. The percolating soundtrack remains busy throughout, but you won't hear much in the way of room-rocking audio. Still, it's a clean and well-balanced track. I will note that Thandie Newton and Gerard Butler occasionally sounded a bit too quiet during dialogue scenes, forcing me to adjust the dialogue.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The extras here aren't really anything to write home about. An audio commentary with Ritchie and actor Mark Strong is a fun listen, but completely insubstantial. Two making-of featurettes (both in HD) are onhand, and I found both to be far too reliant on clips from the the film and obnoxious visual gimmicks (fast-forwarding, rewinding, speeding up what people say, odd splicing, etc.). Finally, there's one additional scene. The are no Blu-ray disc exclusives of any sort. Oh well.
As with other Ritchie films, at times it feels as if the plot is intentionally confusing. I appreciate the fact that the film is trying to make sure that viewers pay attention (no going to the bathroom during this one, folks), but RocknRolla suffers from overkill in the density department. The film could have been made just a bit less convoluted and still been every bit as satisfying. Ah well. Better to have a director that likes to do things the hard way rather than one who is always looking for a short cut.
RocknRolla is a very entertaining flick, and its considerable quality bodes well for Ritchie's forthcoming Sherlock Holmes movie. If you've enjoyed Ritchie's earlier gangster pictures, or films along the lines of Gangster No. 1 and Layer Cake, then RocknRolla will most assuredly be your cup of poisoned tea. The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds solid, though there are no other improvements upon the standard DVD release.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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