Here's some good news for Guy Ritchie
fans. RocknRolla gives off the impression that the once-heralded filmmaker isn't trying so hard any more to jolt, confuse, stimulate, and entertain his demanding followers. As a result, he delivers his most jolting, confusing, stimulating, and flat-out entertaining picture since Snatch in 2000.
RocknRolla is sexy, fast, loose, smart, and extremely funny. It's crammed with colorful criminals, which Ritchie and cinematographer David Higgs backlight to great effect. It chokes on delightfully screwy schemes, which the director and his editor James Herbert slice, tape, and test drive at breakneck speeds. And that's the key. It keeps moving, hardly caring if you are keeping up. Article continues below
Archie (Mark Strong), our narrator, works for London kingpin Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson
), who double-crosses charming thugs One Two (Gerard Butler
) and Mumbles (Idris Elba
) on, of all things, a semi-lucrative real estate deal. As can be the case with Ritchie, this deal is the tip of a filthy, dirty iceberg that sweeps up Russian money-man Uri (Karel Roden), crooked accountant Stella (Thandie Newton
), and One Two's loyal crew, the Wild Bunch.
Ritchie, who wrote the Rock script, keeps us guessing which game will eventually take center stage. Will it be the house One Two and Mumbles hope to acquire? Or will it be the Euros Lenny owes to Yuri? How about Yuri's missing painting, which we're never shown, a la the glowing whatever-you-think-it-is in Marsellus Wallace's briefcase)?
Or will Ritchie's focus fall on Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell
), Lenny's oft-mentioned rock star son-in-law with a debilitating drug habit? Ritchie has said in interviews it wasn't his intention to tell Johnny's story, but Kebbell so effectively steals this show that the director had little choice. We're witnessing the birth of a star in Rock, as Kebbell unleashes a wild-card performance from his gnarly gut. When he's on screen, it's impossible to look away.
And that's impressive when you consider the eye-catching insanity Ritchie attempts in Rock. One Two and Mumbles pull off the most gentle carjacking you'll see on screen this year. Later, they endure the longest (and strangest) footrace, as they are relentlessly pursued by unstoppable Russian war veterans. It's one of many scenes played for big laughs.
Ritchie has gone back to writing lyrical dialogue, tough-guy poetry delivered by a hardened but extremely polished cast. And for the first time in a long time, you can understand almost every spoken word. Butler's quite at home in Ritchie's underbelly. Newton manages to be more than eye candy, and Kebbell's an exhilarating treat.
Near the end of the film, I realized I was going to miss these original characters. So, apparently, is Ritchie. A brazen title card dropped before the credits promises more adventures with Archie, Johnny, and the Wild Bunch. Even more good news for fans of Ritchie and RocknRolla.