Guy Ritchie made two Britmob heist ensemble films- the best I can categorize them at short notice- with Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. After that he got pussywhipped into directing wifey Madonna in a needless remake of Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away, and then made a psychological film called Revolver that most people hated, and I avoided. Now he’s back with RockNRolla, dipping into the rich well of British mobsters, colorful characters, and a story centering on a heist once more. And it works, mostly.
This time he must have watched the classic The Long Good Friday with Bob Hoskins, for the story is similar- a powerful mobster is on the cusp of a sweet deal with hungry new outsiders, and doesn’t realize just what a big fish in a small pond he is. Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom, Michael Clayton) plays Lenny Cole, who is at a unique position to help push huge real estate deals along, with contacts in government, legal offices, the underworld, and everywhere else. “There’s no school like the old school, and I’m the fucking headmaster.”
His right hand man is Archie (Mark Strong, Sunshine) the master of the back-handed slap, razor wit and the man who gets things done. We are introduced to Lenny’s specialty when he sets up and screws over three up and coming street men- One-Two (Gerard Butler), Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy). Also known as the Wild Bunch, these fellows are in hock to Lenny for 2 large- as in million, with inflation. So they need cash quick.
In the meanwhile, Lenny is working his deal with Uri of the Russian mob. $7 million for starters. That’s a lot of money to take as deposit, but to show that he trusts Lenny, Uri lends him his lucky painting. Like the contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, Ritchie decides we’re not to see this painting. It’s strange and beautiful. Things really start going when the picture inevitably disappears, and Lenny sends Archie to find it, at all costs. It’s about time- the movie dragged for the first half hour, but around this point the Wild Bunch also get hired by Stella the slinky accountant (Thandie Newton, yum yum) to hit a money drop, to help assuage their debts.
The heists are the best part of the movie- Ritchie’s sense of humor from having watched so many movies like this makes the scenes hilarious and refreshing. Gerard Butler is hyper and hilarious, rather like Colin Farrell in In Bruges, and that’s a compliment. When they hit a van guarded by two Russian thugs who sit around comparing war scars, I was finally engaged completely. We spend too much time lingering on the not-so-dead Johnny Quid, the Rock & Roller who wants to be a rocknrolla (wiseguy) to keep my interest. He’s not that interesting. The aptly named Wild Bunch and Archie make it all worth it, and Tom Wilkinson lives up to Ritchie’s tradition of bad-ass old mob kingpins like Brick Top.
The story ends like a drawing room mystery when everyone gets together and things get explained, and all the mysteries become clear. I found the end satisfying but it felt lazy. Once again Guy Ritchie crafts a bevy of interesting characters with colorful names and gets them in bloody and humorous situations, but he chooses the least interesting one to lead with, and even announces that he’ll be returning in a sequel at the end. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Archie, Stella and the Wild Bunch but I’m not sure about the others. Heck, even small parts like Tank the info man were better company. Glad Ritchie is back on track, though- this was enjoyable viewing for a fan. If it’s your first film of his, check out his Snatch first.