Dear Guy Ritchie,
An Avid Film Buff
When Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels first came out, director Guy Ritchie was hailed as the next big filmmaker. His follow up, Snatch, proved he was deserving of that acclaim. He knew how put together a film so that everything; the acting, the editing, the music and the dialogue, all had the same aggressively cheeky tone to it. It's no wonder that of all the short films made for BMW's 2001 web series, The Hire, Guy Ritchie's entry is probably the only one still being talked about. I've included it in its entirety below.
Then, he got serious with Madonna, and together they released the romantic comedy Swept Away, which I haven't seen, but I understand is considerably less awesome than the film above. Things got worse with his follow up film, Revolver, a Kabbalah allegory that drowns in so much symbolism and has so many twists and turns, I don't even know what plane of existence it's supposed to be set in.
But then he made RocknRolla, and everything was alright. He went back to the formula that made him big in the first place: Crime + comedy + twisting plots + big ensemble cast. (Revolver lacked the comedy portion.)
Still, despite the critics recognizing that the Guy Ritchie we used to know and love was back, and a fair amount of TV spots being run for it, RocknRolla was given a limited release, making it more of an art house movie. The film went in and out of theaters without a lot of people noticing.
Like Lock, Stock... and Snatch, RocknRolla has a lot of overlapping stories about criminals screwing each other over. There's Lenny Cole (played by Tom Wilkinson) a real estate baron who manipulates the system so he's in control of any deal that goes down in London, his son Johnny Quid, a junkie rocker, and the Wild Bunch (lead by Gerard Butler) a group of criminals for hire.
A Russian developer does a deal with Cole, and as a sign of good faith he lends Cole his lucky painting, which is promptly stolen by Johnny Quid. While Cole is having his men look for his son, the Wild Bunch are stealing money from the Russian to pay off money they owe Cole, using tips from the Russian's accountant (played by Thandie Newton). Artful swearing and occasional gun battles ensue.
For fans of Guy Ritchie's other movies, in terms of tone this one falls somewhere between Lock, Stock... and Snatch. It's lighter in tone than Lock Stock... but compared to Snatch it feels a bit scaled back. Aside from Jeremy Piven's and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, this one mainly avoids American actors. The low level criminals have dumb moments but they don't match the total stupidity of Vinny, Tyrone and Sol, (the trio of thugs from Snatch tasked with kidnapping Franky Four Fingers.) It's definitely a funny movie, but there are notably fewer laugh out loud moments, possibly due to the subplot involving Johnny Quid being a drug addict.
All of the performances in this movie are good, but special attention should be called to Toby Kebbel who plays Johnny Quid, and Mark Strong, who plays Archy, Lenny Cole's right hand man.
Strong has been around the film industry for a while, but aside from his role as Septimus in the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, he hasn't had any previous major film roles yet. Here, Strong stands out like he's been a top billed actor for ages. He plays his role the way the way you'd expect somebody like Willem DaFoe or Michael Gambon to play it, commanding complete control over the scene. It's no surprise that for his next movie, Sherlock Holmes, he gets billed alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the trailers.
As for Kebbel, he's new to the game, but he's going to go far. Somehow, his portrayal of a junkie rockstar bounces back and forth between a tragic figure and a slapstick cartoon character. In the scenes he shares with Mark Strong, it's like watching two legendary actors at work.
If you missed this one when it came out, you should definitely bump it to the top of your viewing list, especially if you're into crime movies and definitely if you're among those people excited by the prospect of a sequel to Boondock Saints.