Toronto Review: Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla
by Alex Billington
September 4, 2008
Guy Ritchie has done it again. RocknRolla is yet another Ritchie classic like we've seen twice before with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998 and Snatch in 2000. It may not exactly top either of those two in content, but it's certainly the best British gangster film in the last eight years, which says a lot. Plus it doesn't hurt to add another great film to the Ritchie library, especially one with such a genuinely entertaining line-up of actors. In short, RocknRolla boasts that same brilliant visual style that Ritchie is known for, as well as a deceitful story as sharp as the one from Snatch. Whether you end up liking the story or not, there's no denying that Ritchie is a talented filmmaker capable of pure entertainment.
Focusing on two smalltime crooks named One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba), RocknRolla delves into the British underworld like we've seen before in Ritchie's films, but this time it's a big-time businessman named Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), who thinks he runs London, that becomes the ball in this nasty Rugby match. Before long, Russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden) loans Lenny his lucky painting, it ends up stolen by the supposedly dead rockstar Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), and the entire allotment of London's gangsters and crooks get wrapped up in a complex game of cat-and-mouse in the search for the painting. It's not the smoothest plot in Ritchie's history, but in the end it pulls itself together.
To call RocknRolla a British version of The Godfather wouldn't be inaccurate, although I'm not going to reveal all of what makes the two so similar. Guy Ritchie movies are almost an acquired taste - with so much style, it's hard to find the substance unless you know where to look. But all that I love about Ritchie's films shined through in RocknRolla. When Lenny says that it costs an arm and a leg, in a Guy Ritchie movie, he literally means an arm and a leg, with bloody ruthlessness and all. That kind of sharp-witted humor and brutal realism fills up RocknRolla to the gills, but just sitting back and enjoying Ritchie's cinematic style will help you overcome the rough spots in the complex story.
I won't necessarily say that RocknRolla is any better than Snatch, which still remains my all-time favorite Ritchie film, but there were numerous moments of genius in RocknRolla that rivaled it. Like a cross-country road trip with your friends, there are scenes that are slow and tedious, and others that are so energetic and vibrant, that it creates a dynamic that Ritchie fans will hopefully find as entertaining as I did. As with Snatch as well, the climax near the end needs to be unforgettable, and in RocknRolla it certainly is – you'll never look at Russian thugs and Gerard Butler the same again - and you won't soon forget it. This film isn't out to win an Oscar, but it is still stylistic cinematic entertainment at its best.
Toronto Rating: 9 out of 10