Starring: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Chris Bridges, Jeremy Piven, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hardy, Gemma Arterton

Director: Guy Ritchie

Screenplay: Guy Ritchie

Original Score: Steve Isles

Cinematography: David Higgs

Running Time: 114 mins.

Guy Ritchie has suffered much scorn across his directorial career, exploding onto the scene with Lock, Stock and kick starting the gangster genre after many years in the doldrums, he followed this with another gangster film, Snatch, in very much the same vein, albeit with a smattering of Hollywood stars (Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro) and a much larger budget. Both were huge hits and Ritchie had the movie world at his feet, offered many high profile roles he decided upon the path of vanity projects, a path well trodden with many casualties, Swept Away all but killed his carreer and Revolver seemed the final nail in the coffin.

So here we have Ritchie’s attempt at reviving his flagging carreer by returning to his gangster roots. A cynic might see it as the easy option, and in truth it is, but who can make films like this better than the man himself? Exactly, so really this is a welcome return for the king of cockney geezers, however this is if, and only if, it’s any good…

I feel I’d have to answer that question on two levels, ultimately it’s a fantastic return to form…but there are elements that don’t quite work, which is a great shame because if they did I’d certainly mark this out as the directors finest work. The plot is impossibly complex on the surface, much as Lock, Stock and Snatch were, interweaving various plot strands and characters bringing them all together in the end. What RocknRolla shows over the previously mentioned film’s is a level of maturity in Guy as a director and writer, characters are much more rounded than in past films making you invest in them more, and in their motives. From the outset the film begins slowly and in all honesty didn’t have me gripped until a good 40 minutes in, but when certain events take a turn and Johnny Quid (more on him later) takes centre stage I was gripped enjoying that it wasn’t complex for the sake of being complex in the same way as Lock,Stock had the tendency to do.

As with his past films, the direction is flashy, beginning with a Banksy-esque credit sequence that grabs your attention holding it for the majority of the running time, yes it’s flashy but it serves to enhance the story, in one scene where Gerard Butler’s One Two is chased by Russian heavies there is a real sense tht your seeing something truly unique. Which brings me to Butler, being pushed as the star, who struggles alongside the other more interesting characters and sadly it’s not that hes bad he has just gained yet another underwhelming role as in 300, isn’t it time this guy got a true star turn! It is hinted at in one scene reminiscant of  Pulp Fiction displaying a flair for dancing that is at once uber-cool and down right embarrassing. Such a shame it’s Thandie Newton he dances with.

Newton is the  real weak link of the film, because, unlike his past efforts, RocknRolla offers up a strong female part, its just shame a better actress wasn’t filling it, Newton as ever is bland, and msot unforgivably down-right boring! It’s also a real shame that excellent character actors are wasted including Chris Bridges and Jeremy Piven, who simply seem to be there in order to boost the profile of the cast

Bringing me to the three performances that DO stand out, Tom Wilkinson, as Lenny in a role very reminiscant of Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday, Mark Strong as Lenny’s right hand man, Archie, and lastly and most impressively the as yet unknown, but soon to be a superstar by rights, Toby kebbell as Johnny Quid aka the titular RocknRolla. Kebbell gives the film a real energy taking pot shots at the music industry and what it is a junkie rock star really is, bouncing from highs to lows making a character that should by rights be the most hated into the most loved, and look out for HIS pencil trick, The Joker doesn’t have a thing on this guy!   

One other thing that stands out as unique is the cinematography of the film, a factor that i am noticing more and more in films lately, if you have seen RocknRolla’s poster (as above) imagine the film shot using that stock and those color’s, you are part way there, every thing has a slighty muddy quality with the London cityscape cutting through it, gleaming but at once not seeming unrealistic. Oddly enough its the first time the city centre itslef has been used as a back-drop by Ritchie.

Left on a almost fairytale ending, or as fairytale as can be in gang-land London, there is promise that the Real RocknRolla will be back, certainly there are plans for RocknRolla to be part of a trilogy but it all depends upon its success, the thing is a sincerely hope it happens because the thought of much more Toby kebbell and Mark Strong is a very enticing one.

VERDICT

Yes it’s a return to ‘safe’ ground for the director, but what a return it is, in the 10 years since Lock, Stock, Ritchie has progressed greatly as a director, injecting RocknRolla with a maturity (in film making terms) hinted at in past efforts and in turn, giving us something much more than the sum of its parts. Were it not for Thandie Newton and a slow (and slightly dull) start, this would undoubtedly be his best to date. As it is it’s simply a solid crime caper leaving us with an appetite for the more that is promised, and lest I forget, an iconic performance from Toby Kebbell, star in the making!

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