[Publisher’s Note: The following review was originally published last month, when the movie was released in the UK. It’s being republished now, in conjunction with the movie’s North American release.]
RocknRolla is the story of One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris “Stringer Bell” Elba), who need $2 million in cash, fast, in order to complete a dodgy property deal with London’s resident kingpin, Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), who proceeds to screw them over horrifically and in the process fucks himself royally in the ear. It’s also the story of Stella the accountant, who has a serious jones for the dangerous life (played by the absolutely luminous Thandie Newton who, I initially assumed was only hired because she is incredibly good at looking thin and uninterested but turns out to be one of the film’s most engaging characters), who arranges a series of thefts from her Russian Billionaire boss (Karel Roden) for apparent shits and giggles. It’s also the story of Johnny Quid, the recently deceased Rocknrolla junkie philosopher who manages to tie the whole film together without ever actually doing anything other than getting high and giving monologues.
Oh yeah, and it’s also the story of Handsome Bob. Why? Because Handsome Bob is fucking awesome, that’s why.
The story itself is told by Archie ( Lenny’s right hand man and evidently a follower of the Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang school of narration), who spends the first section of the movie merrily tap dancing on top of plot holes while expositing exactly how OK it is that he’s doing that. Who needs a back-story when you’ve got charismatic narration? Not us, at least if you take Guy Ritchie’s word for it. The plot, though, is incidental. It’s typical Ritchie fare: Search for a Macguffin all the while scheming, double dealing and weirdly coinciding with the other storylines which run on almost exactly the same rails as the previous one but, to be honest, that really doesn’t matter here.
The dialogue for the most part is tight (although nobody at any point was referred to as a “muppet” and there was only one usage of “you slag”; I’ll be honest with you, I felt a little cheated), only failing for the two Americans who act as Johnny Quid’s management team (played by an out of place Jeremy Piven and Ludacris). The lines they are speaking are written for typically British pacing and tone and it’s only the occasional “ain’t” or “motherfucker” peppered throughout the dialogue to Americanize it that sound truly authentic coming from the speakers. The comedic element is solid; the scenes between Handsome Bob and One Two (oh how I wish I had a criminal nickname, suggestions on a postcard please) and the associated flashbacks had me giggling well after I had left the theatre. As did the concept of torture by crayfish. Because: honestly, crayfish?
The action sequences are, for the most part, superb. The only way I can think to describe the extended fight scene between the Wild Bunch and possibly the two most badass Russian Goons in cinematic history (they are introduced to us by casually comparing grenade scars) is as “the exact polar opposite of the fight scenes in Wanted and every superhero movie ever made.”) As opposed to the usual thing of a fight scene becoming more and more awesome as the action gets kicked up to more and more unrealistic levels, RocknRolla manages to make exactly the opposite true. From the raiding of a sports superstore for weaponry to a chase scene at a slow jog and a moped (complete with take away box and furry eared helmet) acting as a getaway car, the more mundane the actions on screen the better the scene becomes.
The plot itself seems only to serve as a framework to tell these people’s stories and, when you dig under the slow-motion vanity shots and the too-cool-for-school soundtrack, you find them entirely worth listening to. One Two and Mumbles are in over their heads and keep sinking further; Lenny is losing his grip and watching everything he owns and understands be destroyed around him at the hands of the “fucking immigrants” he so loathes; Stella is sabotaging her own life and seems completely unable to stop doing so; and Archie watches in the background. The entire cast of characters, in fact, is one that is constantly on the verge of self destruction, and it appears that only Johnny, self proclaimed “junkie scum,” understands the nature of it. He explains as much during one of the cracked out philosophical ramblings, which are scattered throughout the film. He explains about the lure of death, and the enticement of glamour in relation to a packet of cigarettes (the two characters never seen without a cigarette in hand are Stella and Johnny himself, both embodiments of his theory in their own ways); it could have been hackneyed if standing alone but combined with the thoroughly disturbing scene it overlays and the gentle piano playing that accompanies it, the whole thing ends up pretty effective. It also helps, of course, that you know the speaker is a crackhead who thinks too much of himself and loves the sound of his own voice.
But, by the end of the movie and the inevitable tying together of threads, twists and turns and naked Russian sex parties, the plot moves itself firmly back into the foreground. Suddenly the point of all that characterisation becomes clear (from a narrative point of view, not from a “making a movie that doesn’t suck” point of view, because in that case decent characterisation is never a bad thing); without some actual empathy for the characters the story would, at this point, fall flat on its face - after all, logically why would we care about the fates of a few criminal lowlifes? But we do. And that’s what makes the whole thing work. It’s a gamble and with the same dialogue but a less stellar cast it’s one that could very easily not have paid off.
Alex (the Odd) O’Brien is an incredibly disorganised student teacher who, in between bemoaning the loss of the Empire, eating crumpets and regular binge drinking sessions, finds time to cover all things British for Pajiba. She blogs over at Ink&Apples and can be contacted by email with comments, suggestions or Christian Bale’s phone number.Be My Little RocknRoll Queen.... You Slag!
Film | October 8, 2008 | Comments ()