Guy Ritchie’s career has been in limbo somewhat. Ironically, his marriage to Madonna, the queen of career longevity, proved to shorten his career prospects dramatically. Swept Away was a stinker that would have destroyed most careers, and Revolver was an interesting but over-complicated comeback. Here we see the director return to his Lock, Stock…beginnings, with a ‘Lahndan’ gangster movie.
RockNRolla is an interwoven story of modern gangland London. Real estate has replaced drugs as the new money maker for those of the criminal persuasion, and ‘old school’ mobster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) holds the keys to the city, owning every corrupt council and legal authority going. However, the influx of foreign money is changing things. Keen to not be left behind, Lenny is in the middle of a deal with a Russian billionaire, who will pay him millions for a ‘business contact’ to ease his plans for a new stadium. But things get complicated when a devious accountant (Thandie Newton), a low level criminal (Gerard Butler) and Cole’s rock & roll star son (Toby Kebbell) do their best to scupper the deal for their own individual ends.
Make no mistake, this is Ritchie giving the people what they want. After the past two financial flops, he’s returning to nice, safe territory to prove he’s still got it, and to be fair, he has. The plot is basically an up-market version of Snatch - for Jason Statham read Butler, for Brad Pitt’s Pikey read Kebbell’s out-of-control musician, and for man-eating pigs read man-eating crayfish (complete with greed metaphor). That is not to say that repetition equals poor quality. It worked the first time and it works now, just don’t expect many surprises. The one true departure, and a credit to the script, is a strong female role for once, in the guise of Newton’s sexy but ruthless accountant.
Another big difference is the cast. Wilkinson is brilliant, second only to Mark Strong as his loyal right hand man Archy. Strong ties together all the many stories and proves to be, strangely, the one character you can empathise with. Another standout for different reasons is Kebbell, as the unhinged ‘RockNRolla’ himself. Prone to profound philosophical statements and appauling violence in equal measure, he’s a force of nature that leaves chaos in every scene he’s in. Butler is great as the leader of ‘the wild bunch’ gang, and he sparks very well with Newton as two different classes colliding.
Overall, this is Guy Ritchie playing it safe. He knows cockney gangster movies work, and so he’s delivered a sleeker, if familiar, example of the genre he re-invented nearly ten years ago. Little touches, such as Kebbell losing it outside of a nightclub, remind us he’s still very gifted visually, and a very well-chosen cast lift the quality up a notch. For those who have been pining for a good guns ‘n’ geezers movie, this is for you.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, Thandie Newton.
Out: 5th September