Rocknrolla (dir: Guy Ritchie)
There is something a little pretentious about the possessive directorial credit: “A Joe Blow Film,” but in many cases it is deserved and some it’s more descriptive than a plot synopsis. Rocknrolla is a Guy Ritchie film, in every slang-filled Britgangster-talk line, every plot twist yanking the story threads into a single strand (in Ritchie’s case, it’s like a plot twist-tie), every flash of criminal code and junkie honor in the violent worlds of his street-level characters, and every corruption of honor (even the tarnished honor of his street thugs) by the blokes above it all, yanking the strings until the string yank back.
RocknRolla isn’t ambitious. It’s flashy, it’s garish, it’s self-aware and self-satisfied, it’s front loaded with exposition that flashes through character introductions and a survey of the very complicated relationships in the British underworld and it’s so packed with oh-so-clever bits that it’s entertaining even when you don’t know what’s going on. When you do know what’s going on, it’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. But it is kind fun, in a junk-food crime fantasy sort of way.
Gerard Butler is the ostensible lead as One Two, a freelance street thug and member of the loose brotherhood “The Wild Bunch” but in the scheme of things he’s just one part of an ensemble lorded over by crime boss Tom Wilkinson and explained by narrator Mark Strong, who plays his right-hand man Archy. There’s also a Russian mob muscling in, crooked politicians taking pay-offs, music impresarios, a wild-card drug addict on a mission of vengeance, lots of freelance muscle and a gorgeous bookkeeper (Thandie Newton) playing her own scams with the help of part-time lover and partner-in-crime One Two.
Rocknrolla is good at what it does, which is play out a violent criminal fairy tale in a movie gangster fantasy, where the good guys are just bad guys who look good only by contrast to the really bad guys, and where we root for the thugs who prey upon other thugs. In Ritchie’s world, there aren’t too many innocent folk, and most of them are duly scared off before they get hurt. Everyone else is fair game.
It’s an exceedingly cleverly pieced together puzzle of a movie with criss-crossing storylines that depend on a tremendous amount of dramatically apropos coincidence that tangle up into a narratively satisfying (if hardly surprising) neat little knot of poetic justice. You may not always guess right, but then it’s not the kind of film that makes you care about it until it happens. For all his attempts at suspense, it’s really about the minor pleasures of watching him play with film and style and storytelling. The crime movie genre isn’t a canvas, it’s a toybox and he’s merely finding new ways to play with old toys.
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