“What d’you think we are? Gangsters?” — Josh Reviews RocknRolla
Writer/director Guy Ritchie’s films Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch rank among my favorite movies. Both are incredibly clever, unique movies characterized by hysterical rat-a-tat dialogue and complex, interweaving plots filled to the brim with bizarre, violent, charismatic characters (most of whom are rather shady in nature). And yet, despite my love for those two movies, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a Guy Ritchie film. Swept Away (2002), starring his then-wife Madonna, didn’t interest me, and the critical drubbing it received didn’t inspire me to rush out and see it. I was interested in seeing Revolver (2005), but I missed in in theatres, and the negative reviews that that film also received have contributed to my always choosing other movies to rent when visiting the video store. But I was very pleased to recently have a chance to watch RocknRolla (released last year, in 2008).
RocknRolla has an incredibly complex plot that I’m not even going to begin to try to explain. I’ll just tell you that it follows the intersecting lives and capers of figures at a variety of levels in the London underworld, from minor thieves like One Two (Gerard Butler, from 300), Mumbles (Idris Elba from The Wire), and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy, much more entertaining here than he was in Star Trek: Nemesis), boss Lenny (Tom Wilkinson, from Batman Begins, Michael Clayton, In the Bedroom, and a lot of other great films) and his loyal right-hand man Archie (played by Mark Strong, who I’d never believe, if not for imdb, is the same actor who played Jordanian intelligence official Hani Salaam in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies), rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), music promoters Roman (Jeremy Piven) and Mickey (Ludacris), foreign mobster Uri (Karel Roden) and his accountant Stella (Thandie Newton) and many, many other characters.
As with Lock, Stock and Snatch, the fun of the movie comes from listening to the terrific, joke-a-minute dialogue, and watching the talented ensemble of actors bringing all of their wonderful characters, each of whom could have a movie all their own, to life.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that RocknRolla hung together as a complete film as well as those other two movies did. As much as I enjoyed the enormous ensemble, I felt at times that there were too many characters, with too much going on. RocknRolla doesn’t really have a main character, and I think that is the crux of the problem. The closest thing would be Gerard Butler as One Two, and Butler is really terrific as the charismatic but slightly dim criminal. But his character drops out of the movie for long stretches of time, and has almost no role to play whatsoever in the film’s climax. Without a central focus, the movie seemed to meander at times, and it was hard to really invest in any of the characters. The film ends with a promise that the characters will return in The Real RocknRolla, which I guess is a sequel to come, although I know that Guy Ritchie’s next film is Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. (a movie which, by the way, I am very excited for). Anyways, rather than making me excited to see all of these characters again, that “to be continued” ending just exacerbated what I had already been feeling, that RocknRolla was really interesting in parts, but didn’t come together as a successful, complete movie.