After a botched land deal, One Two (Butler) and Mumbles (Elba) steal the money they need to pay back fixer Lenny Cole (Wilkinson), with the help of accountant Stella (Newton). But their plans are complicated by a Russian oligarch and his prized painting...
The biggest misconception about Guy Ritchie is that he cares what the critics think about him - he doesn’t. With his wife, his family and his brother-in-law’s stupid book in the papers on every other page these days, what the Daily Mail makes of his $20 million crime movie – a steal for its terrific cast alone - has to be pretty low down on his priorities. But the flipside of this silence is that it often seems Ritchie doesn’t care at all, which really isn’t the case. Take RocknRolla: from the Banksy-style opening credits, it’s clear that Ritchie wants this film to get to you. You can go in with your hard hearts, but this is a film that grabs your attention, holds it and, for the bulk of its running time, actually warrants it.
Another misconception that’s about to become apparent is that Ritchie made this film as a reaction to Revolver, another low-budget crime thriller that was critically rubbished. Admittedly, Revolver proved that Ritchie isn’t ready to tell a serious story, but there were scenes that, if they’d come from a Hong Kong cop movie, would have been used as collateral to justify the perplexing script. With RocknRolla, Ritchie isn’t reverting, he’s progressing, bolting this new, stranger, stronger visual style onto the kind of shaggy-dog tale that made him - only this time the actors are good enough to deliver his lines with a conviction missing from those earlier, funny ones.
As with Lock, Stock and Snatch, this is another narrative bunfight, setting up One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) as the nominal heroes who navigate us through a series of subplots, including one about a never-seen stolen painting that skews too close to Pulp Fiction’s running gag about the briefcase. But the one that stands out, so much so that it gives the film its title, is the strand dealing with Lenny Cole’s wayward son, a crack-addicted rocker called Johnny Quid. It’s a terrific turn from Toby Kebbell, making sly digs at the music industry and drawing parallels between his rock world and the underworld with a turn that veers from cadaverous and vulnerable to whippet-like and tough.
If the whole film had stuck to this, RocknRolla might have been amazing, and although there are some well-handled set-pieces - an action scene in which One Two is pursued by an unstoppable Russian Mafioso is visually arresting - the film falls down in its closing stretches. Though the comedy works well (there’s a great scene where the gay Handsome Bob (Hardy) has his way with One Two), the final reel is just too light, with a touch of sitcom about the - almost - consequence-free finale.
Storytelling isn’t Ritchie’s forte - yet. But if he were to engage a little more with the artistic process, that could easily change over time. It would also be nice if Ritchie was more vocal about what he’s patently so good at instead of keeping a dignified silence, one that leaves us with the false impression that this is his equivalent of pottering in the garden shed to get a bit of peace and quiet, dreaming of an imaginary world where the News Of The World is more interested in Barack Obama, and that woman indoors is simply Mrs. Ritchie.
A kinetic, funny, well-cast crime caper, RocknRolla proves Ritchie is still the lord of his manor - if not exactly Shakespeare.