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Mr. Beaks Is A ROCKNROLLA!

Having absorbed the critical/commercial equivalent of Billy Batts' barroom beatdown via the get-your-fucking-shinebox combo of SWEPT AWAY and REVOLVER (culminating with this butcher knife to the gut from Roger Ebert), it's more than a little startling to find Guy Ritchie swaggering back to his old gangster stomping grounds with his most dialed-in picture to date. Apparently, Ritchie is one of those knockaround blokes who can't get right until he tastes his own blood. Feel free to call ROCKNROLLA a comeback; just don't call it a creative rebirth. Ritchie is on very familiar footing with this rough-and-tumble caper comedy about a trio of small-time hoods - One Two (Gerard Butler), Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) - who invite big-time trouble when they try to make a splash in London's cutthroat real estate market. When they get their knuckles rapped by Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), the "headmaster" of the old school criminal underground, the boys suddenly find themselves heavily in debt and absent their prized, potentially lucrative property. Meanwhile, Lenny is attempting to make a killing off of Uri Obomavich (Karel Roden), a Russian billionaire who's none too shy about flaunting his wealth (he does business out of a luxury box in Wembley Arena) while doing all kinds of dirt behind the scenes to keep his burgeoning empire secure. Though Lenny knows Uri (or, at least, guys like Uri) represents the future of corruption in the fast-changing metropolis, he's not about to roll over for this "new school" Eastern European interloper; London is Lenny's town until it's forcibly taken away from him. Funny how something as insignificant as a "lucky" painting - lent to Lenny by Uri - can undo a lifetime of successful transgression. As was the case with Ritchie's first two features, ROCKNROLLA cheerfully piles one contrivance on top of another until the whole endeavor is nothing more than a risible mess of crooks and eccentrics behaving badly. The difference this time, however, is that the director is no longer trying to convince the audience of his filmmaking virtuosity with a lot of superfluous visual flourishes. Whether a sign of maturity or simply a reaction to the rancor which greeted the laboriously tricked-out REVOLVER, it's a relief to see Ritchie reining it in; for once, he'd rather work within the gangster film framework than explode it. It's strange to praise a film for its lack of ambition, but that's actually ROCKNROLLA's primary virtue. Aside from a couple of bravura action sequences, the film amiably settles for a low-key ensemble dynamic that allows Butler, Wilkinson and Toby Kebbell (as Lenny's drugged-out, faking-dead rock star son) to register as something more than archetypes. Butler is especially engaging as the brash One Two, a just-competent-enough thief whose affection for and loyalty to his compatriots goes well above and painfully beyond (particularly with regards to Handsome Bob, who asks an unusual favor of One Two before doing a lengthy stint in jail). Unlike many in Hollywood (where he's been largely squandered in bland leading man roles), Ritchie understands that Butler works best as a guileless, lunkheaded, Steve McQueen-like protagonist; he's the kind of guy who'll probably get the job done, but not before inviting far more calamity than necessary. The scene in which One Two pauses pauses in the middle of a foot chase to taunt a seemingly unstoppable Russian hitman, only to find his equally (seemingly) unstoppable partner charging after him is a perfect illustration of this idiotic, but oddly likable, bluster; the audience may be rooting for him, but they also get off on his self-inflicted misery. Wilkinson is suitably loathsome as the ruthless kingpin Lenny, but he's much more interesting when forced to grovel at Uri's knees when the aforementioned painting comes up missing; the character isn't written with any great panache, but, as always, Wilkinson finds a way to make the commonplace exceptional. While Wilkinson underplays, Mark Strong tears into the role of Lenny's muscle, Archy, with a vicious brio; his stinging demonstration of how to deliver a proper backhanded slap (using one of his lackeys as an involuntary test subject) is one of the film's high points. Thandie Newton, on the other hand, is boringly attractive as Uri's manipulative accountant, Stella; though she capably acts the desirous part (Newton can't help but look lovely), fucking is of scant interest to Ritchie - which he seems to acknowledge with a humorously truncated sex scene. Though most of the actors blend harmoniously into the labyrinthine narrative, the film does boast one grandstanding turn. Toby Kebbell evidently has a following in England, but he's fairly new to American audiences, which makes his half-bratty/half-pathetic portrayal of pop star Johnny Quid something of a revelation. Slight in stature, but consumed with a unpredictably homicidal bent, Quid is the wildcard who causes grief for the tale's many schemers. He's the chaotic motor of the piece, and, not surprisingly, closest to Ritchie's bruised heart. Quid's a survivor. And so, perhaps, is Ritchie. That which doesn't kill your career just might make you a stronger filmmaker. Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 8, 2008, 6:54 p.m. CST

    First!

    by Nickn328

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 6:55 p.m. CST

    I'm looking forward to this

    by Nickn328

    This seems like it could be really good or at the worst an alright gangster movie.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 6:55 p.m. CST

    Oh and Mr. Beaks...

    by Nickn328

    Would you say this makes up for the crap fest of his last two movies?

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:02 p.m. CST

    Guy Ritchie needs to keep being Guy Ritchie

    by Heckles

    Stay with what you know, Guy.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:04 p.m. CST

    I want to see this . . .

    by parallax_r

    . . . now. Good times for all, it sounds like. Now if they could just get Crowe to sign on for Sherlock... Ritchie/Downey Jr./Crowe would make for a sick film. It could be a bio-pic about The Wiggles and I'd still watch it.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:10 p.m. CST

    Nickn328

    by mrbeaks

    Yes. That said, I thought SWEPT AWAY was a fascinating failure (and much more interesting than his previous two movies).

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:10 p.m. CST

    Guy Ritchie is the worst living director.

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:17 p.m. CST

    Total return to form for ritchie

    by bongo123

    seen it on sunday and loved every cool as fuck second of it, while not as hilarious as his first two, it still had the cinema in stitches and can proudly sit beside lock stock and snatch

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:23 p.m. CST

    Basically....

    by TheWaqman

    this movie is considered good because it isn't complete shit. Chalk that up as another generic Ritchie flick with your typical Russian and London gangsters. Great fun....if you haven't seen Lock Stock or Snatch

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:28 p.m. CST

    Have you heard the guy speak? He's a moron.

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:31 p.m. CST

    "Mr. Beaks Is A ROCKNROLLA!"

    by Mr. Nice Gaius

    But is he an AYATOLLAH?<P>Thanks for the review, Beaks. Ritchie could keep making British gangster films for the rest of his life and I'd still go see them. It's one of those few perfect cinematic match-ups.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 7:55 p.m. CST

    What is a rocknrolla?

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:07 p.m. CST

    Damn You Michael Bay

    by MCMLXXVI

    Damn You Michael Bay

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:09 p.m. CST

    from the director of lock stock and snatch

    by illegaltouching

    the exact same fucking movie

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:19 p.m. CST

    from the director of lock stock and snatch

    by rosasaks

    another fucking movie they won't own up to on the poster for the next one.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:31 p.m. CST

    from the director of lock stock and snatch

    by illegaltouching

    and starring gerard butler because jason statham was unavailable for some reason...

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:32 p.m. CST

    I wonder if his wife reckoned he'd be a big deal by now.

    by rosasaks

    Of course we all know she's got impeccable cinematic judgement.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:36 p.m. CST

    Went to School with Idris.---The Black Panther!

    by Mr_X

    <br>We went to the same seconday school and since our year was the only one left everyone knew everyone.</br> <br>Bizzare but true, It was the last day of term (Trinity School( erkan mustafa aka roland from grange hill also went there), we're watching a movie in Ms Mcphee's drama class. It was BreakDance 2: Electric Boogaloo. Idris walks in flanked by the cummings brothers and it's the first time we've met him. The Guy is 6'3" at the age of 14, the rest of the class are midgets compared to him. All i can think is that this man must have been held back for 5 years or something. Mr sasson, Mr Pryke, Mr Berry. good times, good times.</br> <br>Idris, mate Good luck in your career. I've been thinking of the movie that will make you, and here's my conclusion. Prince of Wakanda...T'Challa aka The Black Panther. The Avengers movie will be made, It's Earths mightiest Heroes, not Earths mightiest White heroes. Namor and the wasp will probably be asian, But they'll need a Black Avenger in there somewhere. It's the part you were born to play mate.</br> <br>So, i'm the first to say it, spread the rumor and make it happen.. get your agent on the case, and i want fucking tickets to the premier. Laters bro! Rakesh.</br>

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:47 p.m. CST

    From the director of Duel and The Sugarland Express...

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:48 p.m. CST

    From the director of Who's That Knocking At My Door and Boxcar B

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:50 p.m. CST

    From the director of THX 1138 and American Graffiti...

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:52 p.m. CST

    From the director of Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles...

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:55 p.m. CST

    From the director of Play Misty for Me and High Plains Drifter..

    by rosasaks

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 8:59 p.m. CST

    From the director of his first two films...

    by rosasaks

    another steaming pile of turd.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 9:16 p.m. CST

    Spamming = Banning

    by mrbeaks

    Said it before, saying it again. I'm in a good mood, so you're getting a warning.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 10:48 p.m. CST

    I really really loved Snatch....

    by The Eskimo

    ...and I can't believe I'm saying this, but it was because of B Pitt's performance. I mean Statham was great in a breakout role, but Pitt's character really sealed the deal for me. Revolver and Lock Stock not so much. So is there a stand-out performace in this, one that we'll remember ten years from now? Am I right is assuming from your review that Quid fills the bill?

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 10:53 p.m. CST

    rereading your review...

    by The Eskimo

    ...it seems that the Quid character in fact accomplishes just that...providing the conflict of uncertainty, yet at the same time the center cog around which the wheel turns. Is this a formulaic signature of Ritchie's films? Thinking back on Revolver and Lockstock, I can't think of a character in those films that accomplishes this. Perhaps why neither quite lived up to their potential, you think?

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 11:06 p.m. CST

    Eskimo

    by mrbeaks

    I tend to think he was overreaching. I'm not suggesting he was "out of his depth" or anything; just unfocused. Regardless, ROCKNROLLA is definitely my fave Ritchie movie.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 11:30 p.m. CST

    Beaks

    by The Eskimo

    ...Nuff said. You've yet to steer me wrong and the above was about as much of an endorsement you could have possibly given. I will be in a theater ASAP.

  • Sept. 8, 2008, 11:47 p.m. CST

    Yikes

    by AngelCordy

    A bad Russian Billionaire who likes football? I'm guessing Guy Ritchie isn't a Chelsea fan...

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 3:11 a.m. CST

    Toby Kebbell

    by MatDGZ

    For all Americans who may not have seen Toby Kebbell in anything before, go and see Rocknrolla - he's awesoem in this film. Then go try and find Dead Man's Shoes - A film by Shane Meadows that came out a few years prior to This is England - you'll see just how fucking talented Kebbell is. The guy is gonna go far. With regards to RnR, Richie has at last convinced me Madge doesn't have both of his balls in a jar under the sink. Its a return to form, if not creating anything particularly shiny new or as aggressively and cinematically lush like Lock Stock and the high point that was Snatch. Its comforting to see Richie do what he's good at and succeed with flying colours. Again.

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 3:14 a.m. CST

    Useful Review, as always/mostly

    by onezeroone

    From the review I can make it out it has all the stuff I loved about Lock Stock as well as Snatch and has shed the stuff I didn't like.<p>If this is what your review says it is, am uber-excited for his Sherlock [was already excited with RDJ on board]

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 3:15 a.m. CST

    OT, but any sequel for Tropic Thunder?

    by onezeroone

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 4:27 a.m. CST

    KANEDA!

    by ironic_name

    its a creative rebirth!

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 4:30 a.m. CST

    good to see karel roden getting work

    by ironic_name

    without resorting to defaming rasputin

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 4:38 a.m. CST

    "'Swept Away' was a fascinating failure"

    by kwisatzhaderach

    That's one way of looking at it I suppose.

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 5:13 a.m. CST

    Watched it on Saturday

    by barnaby jones

    Its good, but not a patch on Lock Stock or Snatch. I'd write a review but no one ever puts them up *SOB*

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 5:17 a.m. CST

    I'm with MNG.

    by DocPazuzu

    Loved Lock Stock & Snatch and couldn't be happier if Ritchie decided to make those kinds of flicks for the rest of his career. <p> "Shut up and sit down you big bald fuck!"

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 8:06 a.m. CST

    MatDGZ...

    by Fixthe Fernback

    Have you seen Control? Toby's best performance was in this imo, as the manager for Joy Division (though Dead Man's Shoes was very good.) A talent for sure. He's the reason I am looking forward to seeing this film. A talent to watch. The only reason I am excited about this movie as

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 8:06 a.m. CST

    Grrr..

    by Fixthe Fernback

    me wants an edit button :(

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 9:30 a.m. CST

    The Ayatollah of Rocknrolla

    by Dr Gregory House

    Is Lord Humungus in this?

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 9:36 a.m. CST

    by scottishnutjob

    Didn't realise Kebbell was the wee brother in Dead Man's Shoes, was going to say no-one knows him in the UK. Saw Rocknrolla last night and I really wanted to love it but it was really dark and leached of colour, seem to remember enjoying Lock Stock and Snatch far far more, even Revolver was kickarse in places so the big shoot out I was waiting for never happened in this movie. Loved the Russians brickshithouses chasing Butler though. The sex scene was hilarious. 'Pull your tongue out of my arse Gary. Dogs do that. You're not a dog are ya Gary?'

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 1:20 p.m. CST

    Mr Beaks

    by mrbong

    takes his name from one of the greatest ever film characters (just picked up the double disc Trading Places for next to nowt) and has a, shall we say, eccentric outlook on film - "That said, I thought SWEPT AWAY was a fascinating failure (and much more interesting than his previous two movies)"??? watched SA, must say it was just indifferent - no reason to say it was absolute rubbish, but no reason to praise it either. as for Revolver, if he went back, took out (or seriously reduced) the elevator scene, it would be an OK film. LS&2SB and Snatch were masterpieces of ENTERTAINMENT, as in THEY ENTERTAINED, the reason most of us watch films to begin with. if RockNRolla is more of that, nice one, innit?

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 4:36 p.m. CST

    you know that wheelchair crash at the Paralympics?

    by metaluna

    That's basically 'Rocknrolla' in a nutshell. Including the guy who runs on the track trying to stop it.

  • Sept. 9, 2008, 7:35 p.m. CST

    TOBY FUCKING KEBBELL!!!!!

    by Napolean Solo

    He Got Next...

  • Sept. 10, 2008, 2:58 a.m. CST

    Honestly, Swept Away...

    by WhinyNegativeBitch

    ...Wasn't any worse than the original film. Just bad in a different way.

  • Sept. 10, 2008, 3:02 a.m. CST

    Kebbel and Dead Mans Shoes.

    by WhinyNegativeBitch

    He does a retard. Like Simple Jack. No, all honesty he's believeable, but that stands as the only awful that Meadows has made. But nice to see he's broken in another rising talent. Considine in Romeo Brass was another amazing discovery and half the fucking cast in This Is England should be moving up too.

  • Sept. 10, 2008, 11:52 a.m. CST

    Toby Kebbell

    by Series7

    Hey America good job with Control! Fucking useless country we are.... but hey we all got to see JUNO!

  • Sept. 10, 2008, 11:54 a.m. CST

    Also

    by Series7

    Wasn't Toby Kebbell just a no body that Shane picked up? Kind of like Counselor Troi back in her Soho days?

  • Sept. 10, 2008, 3:07 p.m. CST

    I hate the way

    by ScaryJim

    You yanks lap up this LaanDaan gengsta shit. It's probably as annoying as us lapping up Tarantinos recent abortions. And I'm an Essex boy.