‘Rocknrolla’ has substance to match style, characters
At the movies
November 4, 2008 | 2491 views | 1 comment
Who says Britain isn’t more sophisticated than America? Just look at their gangster movies; you need a ledger just to keep track of who’s who in “Rocknrolla.”
First, there’s rock star Johnny Quid, our occasional narrator, who’s rumored dead and hidden away most of the film. There’s his stepfather, Lenny, who is the self-professed “top dog” of old-school gangsters and specializes in real-estate schemes. His right-hand man Archie’s got the meanest slap in London and commands the troops with a no-nonsense style.
Then there’s One-Two, who pals with Mumbles and Handsome Bob. They pull off smash-and-grabs together. One-Two wants to take a step up in the criminal world. He makes a deal with Lenny to borrow 7 million British pounds against a property worth 5 million -- but which will be 20 million after a backroom deal and a few years pass. Thing is, Lenny knows all the deals, so after secretly being paid the 7 million pounds he just loaned out, he stops the deal and comes down hard on One-Two, taking the property at its rock-bottom price of 5 million and then demanding repayment on the remaining 2 million.
So One-Two and Mumbles find themselves 2 million down, but it’s no problem. A Russian mafioso has come to town and he’s shipping 7 million euros to Lenny to smooth over some local officials standing in the way of a stadium he wants built. Only problem is that the Russian’s accountant, Stella, is bored in her marriage of convenience to a lawyer who’s not interested in the ladies.
Wanting to dip her toes in with the criminal lot, she hires One-Two to grab the 7 million euros. It helps them repay Lenny lickety-split, with money left over for a few nice things. Well, the Russian’s not paying Lenny on time because his money’s now been stolen, and he thinks his run of bad luck is due to having loaned his lucky painting out to the English mobster as a gift. He asks for it back but there’s a problem: Someone’s stolen it.
The thief happens to be stepson Quid, still missing and rumored dead. And if you think I’ve just ruined the whole movie, I’ve only revealed the first 20 minutes.
The plot of “Rocknrolla” acts like a yo-yo, un-spooling and laying its threads bare only to roll back up again, hide everything, and -- not to mix my metaphors -- reshuffle the deck. Its editing style might best be described as slash-and-burn, but it’s an oddly lyrical film.
Guy Ritchie made his name on exactly this sort of gangster films, “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” among them. He’s struggled when stepping out of the genre, but obviously hasn’t lost his touch.
“Rocknrolla” is a pleasure to watch. Evil characters receive their comeuppance for the one thing they didn’t do and the slightly evil -- who are too likeable for us to hold it against them -- botch heists and escapes any which way they can. One starts with two henchmen vying to see who has the most impressive collection of war wounds, goes through -- literally -- a sporting-goods store with all the makeshift weapons a sporting-goods store can provide, and ends with an extended chase sequence in which everyone can barely still move.
Ritchie’s assembled a dynamite cast that fully inhabit their characters, from regular Oscar-nominee Tom Wilkinson’s fierce turn as Lenny to Gerard Butler’s humorous tough guy One-Two.
Thandie Newton, between her role here as the perpetually professional Stella and her role in “W” as Condoleeza Rice, keeps on revealing more and more of a deep well of talent. The cast is rounded out by Jeremy Piven, Ludacris, and a number of British actors you’ve seen just enough times to know you’ve got to look them up online when you get home.
For adults, a 4 out of 5.
For kids, a 2.5 out of 5. (Despite its dirty feel, the swearing isn’t much worse than in “Max Payne” and the blood happens off-screen; just beware the drug and cigarette use.)
“Rocknrolla” is rated R for pervasive language, violence, drug use, and brief sexuality.