114 mins, rated MA 15+, opening in cinemas 30 October 2008.
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
[This is my review as published in the November 2008 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal]
This film is involves crooked developers, compromised city Councillors,
inappropriate gifts exchanging hands, a whiff of corruption, and the
courts. But it isn’t set in Wollongong. London is the centre of Guy
Ritchie’s latest crime thriller, RocknRolla.
Ritchie has long been struggling with the dilemma of the successful
filmmaker: what to do for an encore? After the huge success of his
first two feature films: Lock, Stock
and Two Smoking Barrels (1998),
and Snatch (2000), he
struggled to live up to the reputation of those
films, making the critically-panned Swept
Away (2002) and Revolver
(2005). Ritchie sees these two latter movies as more experimental, but
others see them as misfires.
Ritchie has gone back to familiar territory with his latest release.
There are the layers of criminals, from masterminds and millionaires,
through clever up-and-comers, less-bright schemers, down to thugs and
dim-witted heavies. There are the familiar strangely-named criminals:
our hero ‘One Two’, and his offsiders ‘Mumbles’ and ‘Handsome Bob’ for
example. There’s the same razor-sharp, very funny dialogue. It’s a Guy
Ritchie trademark, and it doesn’t disappoint here. But he’s added at
least 4 new elements.
1. Rock & roll, in the form of the presumed-dead rock star Johnny
Quid (Toby Kebbell).
2. Russian mafia.
3. A revitalised and newly-prosperous London.
4. Gay gangsters.
Ritchie was recently asked why he returned to his “roots” for this
film. He replied that there’s a market for these films, he likes making
them, and: “I was also interested in what is happening in London and
how it’s been changing. Nothing was reflecting that change creatively,
and I wanted to explain that evolution, or de-evolution.”
The London Ritchie shows us is different from the London we normally
see in caper films. Apart from the grungy hideout (“the Spieler”) of
the gang of criminals known as “The Wild Bunch” – as in most Guy
Ritchie films, you almost need a glossary of criminal slang – most of
the film is set in brand new buildings, high rise apartments, a
contemporary art gallery, cavernous modern office foyers, a luxury
yacht, and even a partially-built football stadium.
As in other Ritchie films, there’s a helpful narrator (Archie, played
by the excellent Mark Strong) to help us through the intricacies of
this new criminal milieu. Just as well, as the story moves at breakneck
speed, with editing to match.
Archie tells us that London property prices are going up and up
forever. Of course, that was before the latest global financial crisis,
which just goes to show how unwise it is to make financial predictions
in feature films. In RocknRolla,
everyone’s optimistic about the
property market, and doing deals. I like a film where, in the first 5
minutes, someone advises: “You need a lawyer”.
The cast is classy. Tom Wilkinson is Lenny Cole, the crime boss who
controls the City Councillors, the judges and the lawyers. He’s proudly
old-school. “There’s no school like the old school – and I’m the
f*****g headmaster,” he says. Gerard Butler plays “One Two” and Thandie
Newton is Stella, a crooked accountant. There’s also Toby Kebbell, who
chews the scenery as Johnny Quid, the crack-head rock-star. And for the
US market, we have Jeremy Piven (from the pay-TV series Entourage) and
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (a real-life popular music star) as American
Buffs should enjoy the multiple references to other films. Apart from
the obvious reference to Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 revisionist western, The
Wild Bunch, there are references to The Long Good Friday (the
archetypal British gangster film from 1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark
(1981), Pulp Fiction (1994),
and no doubt many others. Lawyers might be
amused by the plot device involving a “secret” legal document tendered
in Court, which seems to enable a witness to completely avoid
So confident is Ritchie of finding a market for his film that the end
credits announce a sequel: The Real
RocknRolla. He might just pull it
off. After all, there’s no school like the old school – and Ritchie’s
Film buffs and fans of the crime and western genres might be interested
in the DVD release of Sukiyaki
Western Django, the latest from Japanese
cult director "Beat" Takashi Miike, which features a dual-role cameo
from Quentin Tarentino. Hopscotch releases it on 16 October 2008. Rated
R 18+. RRP $29.95.