A return to form from director Guy Ritchie has placed the popular British filmmaker in an awkward position: Stray away from your tired but true formula, and be prepared for a lashing. Or repeat the winning combination that won you universal acclaim and you will have an entertaining, yet predictable film.
And so we come to Rocknrolla, a highly energetic, colourful, yet repetitive crime movie, which shows off Ritchie’s knack for creating big talking hard men doing very bad things, and looking cool while doing it.
As expected – and, truth be told, prayed for – Ritchie has formulated a multi-character, multi-plotted film, which is fuelled by dashing style, memorable characters, and jargon filled, infectious dialogue.
The core of the film revolves around a real estate deal between Uri (Karel Roden), a Russian developer with deep pockets and dangerous acquaintances, and Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), an old school gangster who is the unofficial king of London’s property sector. An unhinged Wilkinson takes to his role with seemingly glorious delight, adding weight to what is really a stock Ritchie heavy: Old, temperamental, and violent.
Things get complicated (to say the least) when Uri’s unfulfilled accountant –and first substantial female character in a Richie crime film - Stella (Thandie Newton) hires One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) to steal Uri’s seven million pound cash delivery, which is en route to Lenny.
One Two and Mumbles are apart of a low level crime gang known as “The Wild Bunch”. Two factors have kept the boys on their toes: Tthe first is that there is an informer lurking somewhere within their ranks; and the second is that one of their best men, Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), has revealed he is a homosexual, which in turn gives One Two a temporary case of the willies. And although it is a sub plot that does not quite work, it is handled with a refreshing, un-pc honesty.
On top of all of this lies another sub plot involving a stolen painting which belongs to Uri, who considers it to be his lucky charm. It has fallen into the hands of Lenny’s rock and roll junkie step son Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), who comes across as the bastard child of Keith Richards and Pete Doherty.
Rounding out Rocknrolla’s cast of misfits is Lenny’s right hand man Archie (who also provides narration), played by Mark Strong in what can only be described as a breakthrough year for the actor, who impressed greatly in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies.
Fans of Ritchie’s acclaimed work will more than likely get off on Rocknrolla. Yet for all of the comfort it provides, Rocknrolla only offers temporary relief. Sure, Ritchie is a deft hand at creating seedy yet appealing worlds where gangsters, thieves, pimps, and junkies roam free.
Yet living on past glories can only get you so far, and hopefully Rocknrolla proves to be the purging that Ritchie needs before setting off into new territory, that does not involve aging pop divas (Swept Away), pseudo philosophical gangsters (Revolver), or worn out plot structure (take a wild guess!)