Boys will be boys, even when they’re men who haven’t been boys for a very long time. They like to get their guns out and smack ‘em around in the other boys’ faces, all in an effort to prove who the baddest boy on the playground is. It doesn’t matter to them that the playground has progressed into the entire city or that the guns have gone from plastic toys to the real deal. The game may have gotten heavier and plenty more serious, and the boys may have grown into the more rugged bodies of men, but they’re still bumbling little boys at heart, too scared to do right and even more so to be a failure. This particular London playground that embodies all this manliness plays home to the modern gangster movie “RocknRolla” and the boy at the top of the mountain is none other than Guy Ritchie.
Ritchie has had a rough go at establishing himself as one of today’s big boys as of late. He burst on to the scene in 1998 with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. The fast moving action and even faster dialogue grabbed a lot of men by their own sensitive boys, squeezed hard and made them feel like bigger men. (Personally, I couldn’t make out a single word being said and lost track about 20 minutes in so I never made it that far.) Ritchie’s momentum grew into a Hollywood step with his follow-up, “Snatch”, but his favour quickly faded after his critical disaster, “Swept Away”. I mean, it wasn’t great but critics went in with their own guns blazing. You simply don’t make a vanity project outside of your genre with your superstar wife, especially when that wife (or soon to be ex-wife) is Madonna, one of the most critically panned actresses of all time. No one even noticed his last release, “Revolver”, but now Ritchie is back. The problem is he isn’t really better than ever; he’s just back where he left off before everything was, well, swept away.
Lucky for Ritchie, he’s got a great group of mates along for this ride. “RocknRolla”’s cast is top notch no matter what Ritchie’s expansive script calls for. Whether you’re watching Gerard Butler dance entirely out of step with Thandie Newton at a party while exchanging brief quips about a heist job or Tom Wilkinson being a right bastard (which he does so well) as the man who runs the streets or Butler dancing yet again, this time in a close embrace with good pal, Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), before he is shipped off to prison, there is always a sense of playfulness that never loses sight of purpose. The purpose on the other hand is a little too far out of reach. There are bad guys and good guys who are essentially bad guys themselves and they are all involved in some sort of construction zoning law shakedown that touches the junkies of the world as well as the Russian mafia and pivots around this one missing lucky painting, which, with a quick nod to the mysterious contents of a certain briefcase in the modern gangster classic, “Pulp Fiction”, is never seen on screen.
Complicated? Yes. Overly so? Maybe, only time will tell there. A good, fun time? For sure. Ritchie is sharp and has a keen eye for style. He hasn’t quite mastered the balance between sleek and simple yet, as his simpler bits are rendered somewhat puny in comparison with his flare. Still, you can tell he’s having a great time piecing it all together. There are the dirty, dark sets, the driving pulse of the often-obscure soundtrack choices (no more cheeky early Madonna pop tracks to be found here) and the sexy voice-over (a clearly spoken narration that was my personal saviour at times) to provide constant entertainment. My hopes for Ritchie though are that “RocknRolla” does not amount to he himself being a “Rock n Rolla” – a boy pretending to be living large instead of actually living it. Next time out, I want to see Ritchie one step closer to being a real man.
Review by Joseph Bélanger