Rock n Rolla

By Gerald Aaron, September 4, 2008
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★★★✩✩ (12A)

It is amazing what the seasoned hand of a leading Hollywood producer can do. With multiplex master Joel The Matrix Silver behind him, writer-director Guy Ritchie rises from the ruins of his last two movies (Revolver and Swept Away) and recovers much of the Mockney form that made his name with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

RocknRolla is an energetic and comic (in the broadest sense of the word) fable of duplicitous, violent contemporary London gangsterdom.

The title refers to the term for "a man who derives his living off the streets by using his wits and raw drive". Here the rocknrolla is well incarnated by Gerard Butler's small-time crook One Two who is a key player in Ritchie's Runyon-esqe (but far more brutal) collection of villains that inhabit his warped celluloid universe.
Ritchie's screenplay is a considerable improvement on his mostly incomprehensible Revolver, but while it is not always absolutely clear what is happening and who is doing what to whom, watching them do it is easily entertaining. And easily forgotten too.

The story kicks off, after mordant scene-setting narration by gangster's aide Archy (Mark Strong), with Russian mobster Uri (Karel Roden) pulling off a crooked land deal with the help of a corrupt politician.
It sparks a desperate search for a missing picture, double crosses and mayhem galore as leading London mobster Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), smart and none-too-honest accountant Stella (Thandie Newton), One Two, Archy and assorted petty crooks go after the millions generated by Uri's deal.

Ritchie's driving direction makes up in enthusiasm what his screenplay lacks in clarity while Butler, Newton and, particularly, Strong give interesting and enjoyable performances.

Some subsidiary characters, notably Lenny's strange drug-addicted rock star stepson Johnny (Toby Kebbell), make an impact, although what American actors Jeremy Piven and Chris Bridges are doing - other than to give the film US appeal - in a subplot casting them as Johnny's managers is a secret between Ritchie and himself.

And for (unintentional) comic relief, RocknRolla offers the mirthful sound of Wilkinson, who has already comprehensively proved he is unable to do a convincing American accent, failing to sound like a Cockney too.

    Last updated: 2:59pm, February 18 2011