and so, the claims are, Guy Richie "returns to form" with his latest film, RockNRolla. well, yes, kind of, if you define "return to form" as being a reworking of the formula which brought him success with his first two films; Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
this isn't necessarily a criticism, by the way. "sticking to a formula" can be a bad thing if one thinks of the rather depressing sequence of Police Academy films, likewise it can be a rather good thing if one thinks of it in regards of Sergio Leone's westerns, or even Martin Scorsese's mob / mafia films. in regards of the latter, don't balk - how many times have you thought of a scene you think you saw in GoodFellas that was actually in Casino, or vice-versa?
so where does Guy Richie fall on this scale? well, he's nowhere near as bad as the Police Academy films, but he's not quite as close to Leone or Scorsese as he might like to think.
the plot for RockNRolla is as contrived and convoluted as the first two films from Richie - two young players (Gerard Butler and Idris Elba) want to make a name and some money for themselves, and so have to do business with an established (for want of a better term) "crimelord", here played by Tom Wilkinson. Wilkinson takes them for a ride, and has a bigger business deal on the go (with some curious Russians, no less), a deal that Butler's character inadvertently ends up involved with.
not much different, then, from the shotguns in Lock, Stock or the diamond in Snatch. oh, there is an actual physical object at the core of RockNRolla too, but i will refrain from mentioning it so as to avoid spoilers.
an interesting "twist" is the introduction of a spanner in the works in the form of Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), an interesting character that serves as part narrator, part apparent and unrelated-to-plot slur on rock n roll stars. now i think this film was written and made before the director divorced his rather infamous wife, so i doubt this is a direct reference to her. although you never know, it could well be a contributing factor to the split.
another interesting move was the introduction of a (substantial) female character, and something akin to a love interest in the form of Thandie Newton, playing the accountant for the dodgy Russian. considering the lack of females in Lock, Stock and Snatch other than being as characters to deal cards or die, as well as the outright mess he made of a prominent female lead in Swept Away, a rather brave move for Guy Richie, and one that works. Thandie Newton gets a substantial part of the better dialogue to work with, and gives a credible acting performance with it. if nothing else, then, Richie has shown that he has avoided the Quentin Tarantino trap of not being able to write and define a female part at all. and before you start screaming Kill Bill, how was The Bride anything but a male character played by a woman?
The biggest problem I had with the film was Tom Wilkinson playing the old, established figure of Lenny Cole. Wilkinson is not a bad actor at all, but when you see him in the film, it only takes a few lines to clock that he was far from being first choice for the role. it's clear (and i have not seen any interviews of comments to this effect) that Guy Richie's actor in mind when writing this was Sir Michael Caine, followed with a second choice of Bob Hoskins. if either were ever approached and knocked it back i don't know, but i do know that watching it you can just tell that Wilkinson is doing the best he can with a part that clearly wasn't written for him.
that disappointment aside, there's nothing but top notch performances on display. Guy Butler as one-two is excellent, as are the rest of his "wild bunch" and indeed the actor that turns out to be "the wild bunch" (you'll understand when you see the film). great too is Mark Strong as Lenny Cole's henchman Archy, as well as the previously mentioned Thandie Newton.
otherwise, the standard for Guy Richie is in presence - some frenetic and wild editing, and a brain smashing soundtrack.
so, is RockNRolla worthwhile? yes, pretty much so. there's none of the fresh, new excitement of Lock, Stock and there's not the laughs and thrills of what is increasingly looking like Richie's masterpiece, Snatch. there is enough to keep you entertained for the 100 or so minutes of the film, although when you reach the end of it you might be surprised to find that the ending is the ending.
and so, for Mr Richie, it's onwards to Sherlock Holmes. this one looks very, very promising on the basis that Robert Downey jnr is in it, but also looks very, very dodgy by virtue of the fact that the horrid, talent free annoyance that Jude Law is appears in it too. good luck with that...
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!