Movie Review: RockNRolla
By Brandon Scott
October 23, 2008

Madonna and A-Rod? Seriously?

Those who thought the Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels- and Snatch-era Guy Ritchie was Swept Away and never to be seen again (mostly Madonna haters) can breathe a pleasant sigh of relief. RockNRolla marks a return to form for the kinetic writer-director. This efficiently-paced and suspenseful actioner has it all, including an eclectic cast, a script steeped in mystery and wry humor, and cutting-edge direction.

Explaining the plot might be an exercise in futility as there is always more there than what we hear from the characters. Things are set in motion when a wealthy Russian mobster comes to London with a real estate scam that could generate millions of British pounds. This attracts the attention of numerous members from London's criminal underworld who all hope to claim their own piece of the pie. From Tom Wilkinson's sinister Lenny Cole (playing similar to his Batman Begins character) to the Wild Bunch's, One-Two (300's Gerard Butler) and his partner in crime, Mumbles (The Wire's Idris Elba), there are tons of names ready to reach for the stash. Needless to say, it's never easy to know who has the most power in this type of caper. Oftentimes, it's not who you think it might be.

The cast is excellent all the way around. Thandie Newton's Stella is a corrupt accountant for the Russian mobster, farming out work to One Two and his crew. A chemistry develops as they shakily figure out how trustworthy they are to each other. Relative unknown and bright spot Tony Kebbell is junkie and rocker Johnny Quid, who holds a grudge against his step-father Cole. Mark Strong does his name proud, making a strong impression as Archie, Cole's right hand man. These are vibrant and lively performances for the most part.

This is still an action film through and through. The frenetic pace in one never-ending sequence in particular is classic Ritchie. Vicious Russian hitmen chase the Wild Bunch on the streets and into a tunnel. Ritchie is at ease here deploying camera techniques that are both funny and gripping at the same time. The action in Lock, Stock and Snatch has nothing on this scene. Ritchie's new London may not be as dark as some of his previous iterations but it still has just as much depth.

Nailing down the plot is difficult with the usual double and triple crosses that take place in this type of layered cake. Everyone is a schemer and true allegiances are hard to identify. One of the beautiful things about this film is that there are times when you don't know what the fate of a character will be. When a main character (I won't say which) is caught in an uncompromising position, you truly wonder whether or not you have seen the last of them on screen. That suspense is key to success in a film such as this. While the plot continues to move forward, our mind also questions the events that we have just seen.

There is not much to lament here as a whole. On the slightly disappointing side of things, Entourage's Jeremy Piven and punch-line master MC Ludacris (Crash's Chris Bridges) are underutilized. As club owners and Quid's rock management partners, they are both smaller supporting players who really don't serve the story much. Their involvement is essentially unnecessary, which is too bad considering the overall package. The plot is also a little convoluted since there are so many players involved. Perhaps more characters than necessary exist at times but it's still in the signature Ritchie-style and due to the collective efforts of the cast, it's certainly forgivable.

By comparison, this is not paced quite as fast as his earlier seminal works, but it's not too far behind either. The humor that fans know and love is back as well. I laughed uproariously on a few occasions at the awkward violence and hilarious accented antics. Another Ritchie trademark, a great soundtrack, is in place here as well. This one most reminds me of Ritchie's oft-used producing partner Matthew Vaughn's Layer Cake from 2004.

After this, few will be able to argue that Ritchie has lost his directing touch, as it's another solid notch on his resume. He may get bored with this style and want to branch out, as the upcoming Sherlock Holmes is likely a departure, but the more films he does like this, the happier I will be as a filmgoer. I was impressed when I walked out of the theater, knowing I just had a good time at the movies, but the cool part is, the longer this one lingers with me, the more I appreciate it. 3.5 out of 4 stars.