Laura CliffordThe Russian mob has moved into London’s criminal underworld and is running a real estate scam that will generate millions of pounds in ill-gotten gains. The local mobsters, led by Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), want a big piece of this crime pie but things are put in jeopardy by the most unlikely person a drugged out rocker named Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) who may kibosh the whole deal in “RocknRolla.”
This is a throwback to Guy Ritchie’s early days when he rose to directing stardom with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” However, it lacks the freshness of his debut flicks. Technically, “RocknRolla” reps an evolution in Ritchie’s film craftwork but the story, by the director, does not show the same evolvement.
The enormous, talented cast combines with the multilayered, multithreaded story to make an exciting, at times, crime yarn that suffers from its too many plotlines. I found myself thinking of the much better “The Bank Job” as I watched “RocknRolla” and the comparison is obvious. Ritchie is a good director but his latest film is derivative of his own work, making me think that he has progressed as much as he can as a filmmaker. (Maybe his marriage to Madonna drained his soul. Now that they are splitzville, he might prove his earlier potential.
Gerard Butler is smalltime con man, One-Two, trying to make it into the big league with his partner in crime, Mumbles (Idris Elba). Tom Wilkinson is good as the ruthless mob boss Lenny but does not have the airtime his second billed character should have had. Mark Strong continues to show his versatility as an actor as Lenny’s loyal, right hand man, Archie. Thandie Newton is a week point as Stella, the accountant for the mobs. Her character is underwritten, especially when compared to the mostly male cast. Toby Kebbell is terrific as the rocknrolla junkie Johnny Quid.
RocknRolla” is fun, ridden with dark humor mixed with violence. Ritchie should have performed some judicious editing to pare down the fat in the film. Its near two-hour run time should have been more like 90 minutes. I give it a B.
After a bit of a downturn, writer/director Guy Ritchie snaps back with an uneven but entertaining sort-of-return to form. With "Rocknrolla" Ritchie also shows a new maturity using a bit of restraint dispensing his flashy cinematic tricks. Sure he can't resist slo-moing then fast forwarding the sexy slink of Thandie Newton and he overindulges in the druggy degeneracy of his titular character, but for the most part, he sticks to his storytelling.
Which also happens to be "Rocknrolla's" main problem, as Ritchie apparently never meets a character or idea he doesn't like. The ensemble cast of his latest is so massive, they can't all be done justice and by the time the story's come to a close it's a bit of an untidy mess, even if all the pieces, technically, have been accounted for.
Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson, "In the Bedroom," "Michael Clayton") is proudly Old School and believes he holds London in the palm of his hand, so when Russian mobster Uri (Karel Roden, "The Bourne Supremacy," "Mr. Bean's Holiday") comes to him to help grease the 'planning' wheels to get a stadium built, Lenny bilks him for 7 million Euro for the job. But Uri's accountant Stella (Thandie Newton, "W."), who he carries a torch for and entrusts with coming up with the cash, hires One Two (Gerard Butler, "300," "Nim's Island") to steal it. One Two and his 'Wild Bunch' buddies of Mumbles (Idris Elba, "28 Weeks Later," "Prom Night") and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy, "Layer Cake," "Marie Antoinette") were just shafted in another real estate deal by Lenny, but now have the cash he'd strapped them for.
There's a second steal, a precious painting (never seen, a la Tarantino) that changes hands, a rock star who fakes his own death to increase record sales, a couple of unrequited love affairs, and various and sundry hustlers that weave in and out of this complex tale, frequently punctuated by humor and bursts of violence, often in the same frame.
Ritchie has articulated his London gangster classes well with points of view from below the curb (a couple of junkies who fence stolen goods) to those bored with three story yachts (Uri) and cinematographer David Higgs ("Derailed") uses a palette that alternates rich mochas and espressos (Old School) with bright modern whites (New School). Characters are established in tableau which change with swish pan edits and voice over. Dialogue is a cult unto itself.
The cast varies with the great Wilkinson playing Lenny as a man whose suit still wears its hanger, but adds little but bark in a disappointing take. Better is Mark Strong ("Body of Lies") as wronged right hand man Archie. The wild bunch are a terrific trio, with Handsome Bob's admission of romantic love for One Two adding a tangy twist and Mumbles as unflappable advisor. Toby Kebbell ("Alexander"), so memorable in last year's "Control," proves another force as Rocknrolla Johnny Quid and Nonso Anozie ("Happy-Go-Lucky") marks himself as one to watch as Tank, a mid level trader who watches Merchant Ivory films in his SUV and appreciatively notes the 'Swedish Pine masquerading as English Oak' in Lenny's office. Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges ("Crash," "Max Payne") and Jeremy Piven (HBO's "Entourage") provide their names more than any real character as Johnny's managers. Newton is smooth as silk as an indifferent object of desire. Roden plays against type, a gentleman amongst thugs.
"Rocknrolla" should have been tighter, but it plays like a sprawling jam session. The surprising rise of its rock star successor is a nifty plot line but it's at odds with the world it weaves into.
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