Guy Ritchie didn’t make the mistake of putting his wife Madonna in RocknRolla; but his latest gangster film queers a sense of Macho to match Madonna’s sense of Slut. Hopefully, Ritchie’s fantasy won’t roll back human progress; but this time it’s shaped an unexpectedly enjoyable movie.
RocknRolla joins badass folderol to bad-boy (adolescent) distress. Ritchie’s love of swagger is embodied by flamboyant cartoons that all harbor a personal social resentment-usually from way back in childhood or class disadvantage. The key figure is Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a dissolute rock star addicted to music, drugs and violence. Quid’s a perversely glamorized punk idol working out abandonment issues; he calls himself a “rocknrolla,” the way American rappers call themselves “gangstas.”
Ritchie’s private fantasies resemble an American yahoo’s: car-crashes, shootouts, racial bravado and easy sex. But this time Ritchie’s Tarantino knock-off shows real style. His personal argot-including delirious, self-referential plot contortions-have splendid (practiced) ease. He’s got a first-rate cast and knows how to showcase his actors: Hot-shot Kebbell’s rocknrolla matches the star-power of Idris Elba (Mumbles), Gerard Butler (One Two), the stunning Thandie Newton (Stella), Tom Hardy (Handsome Bob), Mark Strong (Archie) and Tom Wilkinson (Lenny). They each cut such sharp, personable, enormously sexy figures that these multiculti, caste-conscious street thugs could be the cinema-inspired self-projections of a Mike Leigh cast.
By mixing class desperation with a sense of the absurd, Ritchie clarifies the materialistic lies of crime movies: In one scene, a gangster tries buying off rich students with blood money. In another, Newton and Butler workout their frustrations in a sex montage. A relentless, staccato foot chase with Soviet goons (“What are these guys made of?”) dramatizes British immigrant issues better than Eastern Promises. And One-Two’s fascination with Handsome Bob’s gay attentions upends the entire history of thuggish machismo. RocknRolla‘s a shocker-a Guy Ritchie film full of wit and feeling.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, Running Time: 114 min.
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