7 September 2008 | pyrocitor
Ritchie rolls back into action with a pulse pounding, viciously funny return to form
In a business as enormously subjective as the film industry, it would seem near impossible to attempt to remain individual and innovative, continually raising the bar, without the occasional stumble. Writer/director Guy Ritchie, who at first garnered countless approval for his vicious, hyper-stylized tales of dirty deeds in the British underground, had found the critical tides turning in recent years after the succession of universally panned Swept Away to widely baffling Revolver, begging the question as to whether Ritchie's cinematic genius had been limited to his initial films. However, fans of the unconventional filmmaker will be enthralled to hear that his latest project, RocknRolla proves a confident return to form, a snappy, stylish piece of work bristling with energy and acerbic wit - in short, classic Ritchie.
Returning to his defining genre, Ritchie crafts yet another convoluted myriad of intersecting story lines focusing on greed, deception, double-crossing and plenty of stupidity in the seedy underbelly of England. With viewers trusted to be familiar with his unique style, Ritchie uses his familiar story template to worm in social commentary amidst his trademark edge and humour, satirising the increasingly developed state of London and the enormous demand for real estate and location. But this is not the ordinary, romanticized London, as Ritchie's cinematic eye appears determined to capture every last dank, filthy gutter, every ounce of crime and corruption in a fashion akin to the least flattering cinematic depictions of New York. And yet, amidst the filth and edgy comedy, the occasional moment of raw humanity, flawed as it may be emerges from the fray of unanimously unsympathetic characters, whether it be the vulnerability of rocker Johnny Quid shuddering and rocking back and forth on a drug trip or the witty interplay between 'The Wild Bunch', a trio of hapless thieves. For a film so cynically detached, RocknRolla sure can hit the emotional gut-punch buttons for brief but unsettlingly crucial moments.
However, in the midst of his caustic reflection on his home town, Ritchie has mercifully left his sense of uproarious fun intact. After a relatively slow start, serving mostly to set up the convoluted array of characters and plot points (the central Maguffin this time being a 'lucky' Russian painting which goes missing) the film takes off at the frenzied pace those familiar with Ritchie's work would expect. Plunging into a fray of hilarious coincidences and situational comedy (watch for a priceless slow dance scene and one of the most hysterical sex scenes in many a year), double crosses, intimidation rants, philosophical monologues and the time worn Ritchie tradition of indestructible Russian hit men, it becomes clear that no matter how many similarities it may bear to past work, the delight of seeing a dynamic talent back on the top of his game cannot be understated. While the hyper-kinetic editing and camera-work and bold music cues of Snatch have been toned down and the casual violence is more removed, the cinematic flavour is unmistakable - Ritchie is back, and just as bombastically entertaining as ever.
As usual, Ritchie's cast rise to the occasion of matching the brilliance of their script and director. Gerard Butler brings an endearing charm to tough talking goofball thug One-Two, inevitably raising laughs whenever on screen and anchoring the film as one of the few likable characters. Tom Wilkinson takes on the role of resident British mobster with considerable aplomb, spitting out his lines with a vindictive joy and proving easily more than adequate on the intimidation front. Thandie Newton evokes an alluring mysterious air as a devious accountant playing each side of the conflict against each other, exuding a subtle quirkiness in her execution of the traditional femme fatale figure. Mark Strong delivers harried menace and perfect comic deadpan as Wilkinson's right hand man, crafting another memorable Ritchie reference with the "Archie slap", and Idris Elba and Tom Hardy are fittingly hilarious as One-Two's bumbling fellow hard men Mumbles and Handsome Bob. Finally, Toby Kebbell eerily essays the most commanding character on screen as allegedly deceased rocker Johnny Quid. A narcissistic, painfully vulnerable, haphazardly philosophical and cheekily insulting pile of flaws and potent observations, Quid is as classic as any of Ritchie's more beloved characters, and Kebbell's off-kilter performance rivets the viewer's attention - whether hilarious or tragic, he is always invariably impossible to ignore and far too interesting to discount.
While the occasional cry of rehashing story elements from past successes may be raised, Ritchie's return to form is too supremely entertaining to dwindle under such complaints, as the formula proves to have just enough shelf life along with countless inspired tweaks to remain miles ahead of any stylistic impersonators. For any finding the cinema's fare too dull or uninspired, fear not - a genuine talent has re-emerged, and RocknRolla proves just the antidote to the hackneyed mainstream offshoots which slunk up in his absence. The prospect of the announced two sequels is mouth watering indeed - if anything should prove indicative of the film's quality, it is that.