Guy Ritchie’s first two films can arguably be called instant classics with his unique flair and (some what) originality earning him titles such as “the British Tarantino”. Though both Lock, Stock & Smoking Barrels and Snatch remain an acquired taste (and strictly “boys club” filmmaking), it’s hard to deny they gave a shot in the arm to mainstream cinema and made gangsters cool again. Unfortunately, Ritchie lost his way slightly after the success of these films; becoming a family man possibly changed his perspective slightly, but a woeful decision to make a film with his then-wife, the acting deprived Madonna, had him labelled as quickly as the “king of cool” to having lost it. Coming to his senses, Ritchie went back to the well and gave us (the hardly seen and critically paned) Revolver. However bad it may have been, that film seem to provide the director with renewed passion and he followed with RocknRolla before helming the entertaining blockbuster, Sherlock Holmes.
RnR brings us closer to Snatch than any other film of Ritchie’s and even though it is not as exuberant as the former (nor as intelligent as Lock, Stock), it’s a fair – but clunky - effort, that shows that he still has something to offer in the genre it feels he seemed to almost invent himself. We’re in similar territory in that the story revolves around gangsters and crims (both British and Russian), involving a junkie rock and roll star and a very important painting. As much as the similarities with Snatch abound, RnR doesn’t feel like a sequel or overly a retread however. The humour remains (though not as funny), as does the violence (not as impactful) and even a voice over by Mark Strong’s Archie ala Jason Statham’s Turkish is present, it still feels distanced from the director’s explosive first features. Perhaps though, that is more about the actual quality of this movie. We do feel like we're in a whole new Ritchie universe, but the soundtrack, editing and all round wit is lacking in comparison.
Snatch and Lock, Stock were wild, fresh and at the very least; not boring. Ritchie has certainly changed his approach visually with his recent films, and while some scenes in Snatch felt inspired, RnR has some that feel mere experimental and others that just seem lazy. It’s still uniquely Ritchie, but far less impressive. Same goes for the script. Minor one or two scene characters that were worthy of cult figure status in his previous flicks are present here too, but there is something about them that is just, well, not as cool. And when they disappear out of the film, they really do – you’ve forgotten about them and your left with an ensemble of recognizable main actors populating what feels like a crowded film at times. Cool names such as One Two, Mumbles, Handsome Bob and Fred the Head are thrown around so quickly, they never stick or grant them the privilege of someone donning their moniker at a Halloween party and getting recognised. Hatchet Harry, Boris the Blade and Bullet-Tooth Tony these guys ain’t. This all causes the film too feel to muddled, long and only if you’re able to make it through the first 70 minutes clinging to actors such as Tobey Kebbell, Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba and Strong keeping you interested, the final 30 is actually worth while. With a neat twist and a surprising exuberance to it, the final act almost feels as good as anything Ritchie has done so far and a tease of what could have been.
Gerard Butler as the central, curiously named, One Two, plays it well enough, but with so many players meandering through the mob deals and chase for a missing painting it’s hard to acknowledge a standout. All are decent with only Strong and Kebbell rising above their respected peers. Tom Wilkinson is extremely fun spouting various cockney barbs (“There's no school like old school, and I'm the fucking headmaster”), but he’s no Brick Top and inclusions of good actors such as Jeremy Piven and Thandie Newton feel wasted. I suppose it is not fair to hold Ritchie up so closely to his previous (though similar) films now and despite all the negatives, RnR is about as close to another great gangster romp from Ritchie as we could have hoped for and is at times, quite enjoyable. Plus with a cheeky final scene hinting at a balls-to-the-wall sequel, one can only hope Ritchie will line up his players somewhat more perfectly after feeling them out again here. If anything, I will embrace a follow up if it means the imminently watchable Kebbell’s Johnny Quid will be at the forefront.