Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – RockNRolla (2008)

My notes on RockNRolla (2008)

A return to form for Guy Ritchie? Maybe. Considering he’s coming off two career-scuppering flops (Swept Away, Revolver), this might be more of a run for cover. Like his ‘early, funny films’, Rocknrolla – the title is supposed to be slang for some sort of criminal bigshot, but reminded me of the Mad Max 2 villain hailed as ‘the Ayatollah of rocknrollah’ – is a shaggy dog story of London criminality with vivid crookney types tangled up in feuds and quests and cross-purposes activities. Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels brought forth a flood of imitators, which puts the originator of the ladmag gangland film at a disadvantage as he returns to his original patch after it’s been used up and trashed by everyone else. Also, the central quarter of Lock, Stock were – whatever their legal situations – essentially innocents, and you hoped they’d get away with it; everyone here is guilty as hell, and — for all the dazzling verbals and a varied cast of welcome presences — it’s truly hard to like or care about any of them.

When, in the climax, it turns out that shady bossman Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) has broken the code of the underworld and turned informer, there’s a sense of moral outrage which doesn’t take away from the fact that the folks he sent up all deserved to go to jail, and have spent the whole film variously doing rotten things with sheepish looks as if they were in a harmless old Ealing comedy crime world rather than committing robbery with major violence or stabbing bouncers with a pencil. Archy (Mark Strong), Lenny’s sharp-suited lieutenant, narrates and is the only one who shows any moral compunction about cheating mates – but he’s still as much a thug as anyone else (think Gabriel Byrne in Miller’s Crossing, but without the depth). The plot involves a Russian tycoon (Karel Roden) who wants a planning deal to go through, accountant Stella (Thandie Newton) who leaks information about bribe money transfers to a gang of robbers called the Wild Bunch (Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy) who’ve been screwed over by Lenny, a corrupt comedy councillor (Jimi Mistry), a fabulous painting (which we never see) lent by the Russian to Lenny and stolen by his junkie rockstar stepson Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), Johnny’s cowed management team (Jeremy Piven, Chris Bridges), a dope dealer (Matt King), an erudite ticket tout (Nonso Anozie, of Cass), Stella’s conveniently gay lawyer husband who has even more convenient access to plot-furthering papers and a pair of comedy Russian hardmen (a recent crime cliché is the almost-unkillable but inept Russian mob goon).

If it weren’t for Strong’s narration, it wouldn’t hang together – but the verbiage keeps it on track as Ritchie shows off with editing tricks (a joke sex scene composed of tiny snippets is a good one) and the occasional walk-on freak-out character. The patter is funny, but most of the talented cast coast – only Kebbell really attacks his role, which turns out to be monstrous – and it’s possible that the movies’ love affair with cool criminals is starting to wane. After two hours’ in this company, I was primed for a BBC News-style balancing statement from a spokesperson for the rights of victims of crime …


One thought on “Film review – RockNRolla (2008)

  1. Valerie Laws
    Nice one Kim! my love affair with cool criminals certainly waned, though Quentin can still keep me interested in things crooked. Maybe it’s time for cool honest worthy…erm… I’m more concerned about pencils – after the Joker’s hide the pencil trick and now the bouncer stabbing you mention, the damn lead-loaded, graphite-toting, sketch-scribbling things should be banned from our schools, I mean what about the children?! And don’t get me started on the pencil sharpener, the hole of the devil.

    Michael Bartlett
    I quite liked Revolver.
    Not sure if this one looks as interesting. Seems very run of the mill gangster, seen it all before stuff. Your review has now helped me confirm I won’t be seeing it.

    Posted by kimnewman | March 9, 2022, 10:53 am

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