There are few writers and/or directors who can successfully intertwine remarkable, seemingly unrelated characters and side stories in a coherent fashion. In the states, Quentin Tarantino, of Pulp Fiction fame, takes the honors. Across the pond, the award goes to Guy Richie, whose body of work contains such memorable films like Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. After some recent slipups, Richie has finally decided to refocus and try to recapture his early success with his latest hip, gangster flick RocknRolla.
Like his other applauded films, RocknRolla shares many of their traits — a plot device (known as a MacGuffin) that connects the disparate subplots, and bumbling criminals that all have quick-witted tongues and exhibit some level of bravado (deserved or not). Seems Richie is a bit rusty though, as his characters aren’t as smooth or as cool as they could have been and the story isn’t as sharp as it should have been.
While I’m still not entirely sure, the man I think we’re supposed to build a connection with is a small-time hood known as One Two (Gerard Butler). He and his partners in crime, Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), have dreams of the big-time, but when they get too big for their britches, they find themselves smacked down by the self-proclaimed city kingpin Lenny (Tom Wilkinson). Lenny unfortunately finds himself in a bit of jam too, when a lucky painting lent to him by Uri (Karel Roden), a Russian mobster, gets stolen. Further complicating the story, Uri has his own set of problems; seems every time he withdraws cash to close his business dealings it gets stolen. Needless to say, both Lenny and Uri need what each has lost to finalize their underhanded agreement and in their efforts to gain back what is theirs, secrets concerning all involved, including a drugged-out rockstar named Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) come to the forefront.
Try saying the preceding paragraph five times fast — to say there is a lot going on is an understatement. Richie throws the kitchen sink at RocknRolla, and in some instances there is a big payoff. One thing Richie is good for, is adding some wry, edgy comedy in unexpected places in his movies. One such scene I particularly liked, involved an uncomfortably slow dance sequence. Another, shot and edited roughly, has several Russian bruisers chasing Butler’s character up and down railway tracks, ends in “cocky” way that comes back to haunt One Two later in the film. On the other end of the spectrum, I wasn’t impressed with the last second twists. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the main reveal was put in place at the last minute — it was out of place and completely unneeded from a storyboard point of view.
As for the characters, there isn’t a sympathetic one in the lot. One Two is probably the most charismatic of the bunch and Gerard Butler was a good cast for the part, but that isn’t saying much. Tom Wilkinson plays a mean spirited crime boss intent on maintaining power at all costs as good as anyone; but again that doesn’t say much either. Thandie Newton as the cold, calculating, fox-in-sheep’s clothing seductress really didn’t do it for me. And while I didn’t understand the role of Johnny Quid, I’ll admit he was certainly an interesting fellow and when he was on screen he was rather entertaining.
All said, a good time can still be had watching RocknRolla. It isn’t Guy Richie’s best work by a long shot, but it is a damn good start to his getting back to making movies he is good at. He’s mentioned he plans to make a trilogy from these characters starting with “The Real RocknRolla” and ending with “RocknRoll Suicide” — hopefully between now and then he’ll have remastered the art of clever storyteller.