Friday, January 28, 2011


Rocknrolla is a strange, strange film, more so viewed from 2011, when the claims that London was rising, bouyant on waves of cash, to become the capital of the world, seem somehow piquant following the crash. Oh, how hollow that seems now, viewed from the ever-so-serious side of history.

That's not the only antediluvian element to Rocknrolla. There's the storyline, which has to be related by a coarse voiced Cockney who's incapable of doing anything except force you to remember 'A Right Royal Barrel of Cockney Monkeys'.

Not so old, but still confusingly familiar, there's the procession of actors who either turned up in an early Brit caper, or were stalwarts of the comedy scene. Yup, there's Super Hans again, in a natty suit and with all the writing on his face from Inkheart scrubbed off. There's also Gerard Butler (you know, him off 300), Tom Wilkinson (you know, him out of Inception), Thandie Newton (you know, her out of Run Fatboy Run) and the foyer of the Barbican Arts Centre (you know, the concretey monstrosity out of East London).

I'm not just namedropping for the sake of it, that was an attempt to simulate the first half hour of the film, where, bored with the absence of a discernable plot, I found myself reduced to pointing out to my fiancee the various actors and landmarks that I'd either seen previously, or walked past. Or seen while I walked past them.

It's either played very flat, or there's something seriously wrong with the sound on my new computer, because nobody's voice ever seems to be raised from excitement. There's some great foreshadowing, as we've come to expect from Guy Ritchie: part way through the film, a man gets hit with a golf club in a sporting goods store. Later, another man will be hit with a golf club on the greens of the ninth hole. That's not coincidence, that's the sign of a great writer at the height of his powers.

Just as RocknRolla suffers because we can't figure out how we're meant to capitalise the title, so it also does through unevenness of tone. 1 To try to replicate that here, I would have to paste in five paragraphs of repugnant misery and violence, and then talk about Elvis' later movie work. And frankly, I don't have time. I'm still confused by a film that didn't know if it wanted to be violent and funny, or just violent.

It does have a great sex scene, showing great efficiency (or Thandie and Gerard couldn't stand each other) and it's the only Guy Ritchie film I've seen to address the blatant yet unspoken homoeroticism that fills these films where a bunch of Big Men Hang Out Together doing Blokey Things, Like Cars And Shooters And Talking Like Geezers Innit And I'm Definitely Not Gay.

ROCKnrOLLa also rips off part of the plot from Layer Cake from miles away2, although thankfully it doesn't take any cues from Revolver, the mind-fuck Jason Statham film about gangsters in an alternate New York / Hong Kong in the future of the past. Some joker may eventually point out that rOckNrollA was released before Revolver, but if you've seen Revolver you'd know that time is just a mutable concept vaguely enforced by human minds, an unreal constraint on reality with no real substance. A bit like plot, or characterisation, or the Russians in this film.

Oh, oh, and there's that bloke from The Wire, doing his level best to bury any fond memories of his previous work.

What I'm trying to say, is that there's really not much to say about this film. It has moments that are pleasantly diverting, but overall it doesn't know where it's going, you care little for the characters and there's a big mess where the plot should be. And that's before we mention the cardboard junkie who hardly merits an actor (before transforming at the climax to an uber-efficient piece of work), let alone the blatant MacGuffinism of the painting.

Was this his finest work? Was this what we were waiting for? Was Ritchie just trying to say something about the funding of local government-sponsored building projects under the New Labour regime? Who knows? I'm just strangely terrified by the prospect of the sequel, The Real rocknrollA. No, it says so in the credits, look for yourself.

What did I learn from this?

Running away from problems (if they're Russian) tends to make things worse.
Jeremy Piven (your one out of Entourage) is dreadful short, isn't he?
Never trust a junkie. Not if he's got a pencil.
Mopeds will happily transport two large men and a briefcase full of cash.
Or basically, nothing useful at all. Can I get those hours back, Mr Ritchie?

1 Perhaps the unevenness of the title is meant to point that out to us.
2 So Guy Ritchie was now effectively ripping off Layer Cake, which was effectively ripping off Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, except Layer Cake was effective and roCknrOlLA isn't anything much at all like a film. No wonder I'm confused.


nick said...

haha, another one not to watch. The director should have been a strong hint. V. amusing review.

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