RocknRolla, 114 mins, rated MA 15+, opening in cinemas 30 October 2008.


[This is my review as published in the November 2008 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal]

This film is involves crooked developers, compromised city Councillors, inappropriate gifts exchanging hands, a whiff of corruption, and the courts. But it isn’t set in Wollongong. London is the centre of Guy Ritchie’s latest crime thriller, RocknRolla.

Ritchie has long been struggling with the dilemma of the successful filmmaker: what to do for an encore? After the huge success of his first two feature films: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), and Snatch (2000), he struggled to live up to the reputation of those films, making the critically-panned Swept Away (2002) and Revolver (2005). Ritchie sees these two latter movies as more experimental, but others see them as misfires.

Ritchie has gone back to familiar territory with his latest release. There are the layers of criminals, from masterminds and millionaires, through clever up-and-comers, less-bright schemers, down to thugs and dim-witted heavies. There are the familiar strangely-named criminals: our hero ‘One Two’, and his offsiders ‘Mumbles’ and ‘Handsome Bob’ for example. There’s the same razor-sharp, very funny dialogue. It’s a Guy Ritchie trademark, and it doesn’t disappoint here. But he’s added at least 4 new elements.
1. Rock & roll, in the form of the presumed-dead rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell).
2. Russian mafia.
3. A revitalised and newly-prosperous London.
4. Gay gangsters.

Ritchie was recently asked why he returned to his “roots” for this film. He replied that there’s a market for these films, he likes making them, and: “I was also interested in what is happening in London and how it’s been changing. Nothing was reflecting that change creatively, and I wanted to explain that evolution, or de-evolution.”

The London Ritchie shows us is different from the London we normally see in caper films. Apart from the grungy hideout (“the Spieler”) of the gang of criminals known as “The Wild Bunch” – as in most Guy Ritchie films, you almost need a glossary of criminal slang – most of the film is set in brand new buildings, high rise apartments, a contemporary art gallery, cavernous modern office foyers, a luxury yacht, and even a partially-built football stadium.

As in other Ritchie films, there’s a helpful narrator (Archie, played by the excellent Mark Strong) to help us through the intricacies of this new criminal milieu. Just as well, as the story moves at breakneck speed, with editing to match.

Archie tells us that London property prices are going up and up forever. Of course, that was before the latest global financial crisis, which just goes to show how unwise it is to make financial predictions in feature films. In RocknRolla, everyone’s optimistic about the property market, and doing deals. I like a film where, in the first 5 minutes, someone advises: “You need a lawyer”.

The cast is classy. Tom Wilkinson is Lenny Cole, the crime boss who controls the City Councillors, the judges and the lawyers. He’s proudly old-school. “There’s no school like the old school – and I’m the f*****g headmaster,” he says. Gerard Butler plays “One Two” and Thandie Newton is Stella, a crooked accountant. There’s also Toby Kebbell, who chews the scenery as Johnny Quid, the crack-head rock-star. And for the US market, we have Jeremy Piven (from the pay-TV series Entourage) and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (a real-life popular music star) as American music producers.

Buffs should enjoy the multiple references to other films. Apart from the obvious reference to Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 revisionist western, The Wild Bunch, there are references to The Long Good Friday (the archetypal British gangster film from 1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Pulp Fiction (1994), and no doubt many others. Lawyers might be amused by the plot device involving a “secret” legal document tendered in Court, which seems to enable a witness to completely avoid identification.

So confident is Ritchie of finding a market for his film that the end credits announce a sequel: The Real RocknRolla. He might just pull it off. After all, there’s no school like the old school – and Ritchie’s the headmaster.

Film buffs and fans of the crime and western genres might be interested in the DVD release of Sukiyaki Western Django, the latest from Japanese cult director "Beat" Takashi Miike, which features a dual-role cameo from Quentin Tarentino. Hopscotch releases it on 16 October 2008. Rated R 18+. RRP $29.95.