RocknRolla
Warner Bros. // R // $35.99 // January 27, 2009
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 1, 2009
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
I blame Madonna.

I
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mean, I always blame Madonna -- no matter what it is we're talking about -- but come on: before Guy Ritchie slipped that ring on the wizened pop star's finger, he'd written and directed Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels and Snatch. After they'd swapped I-dos...? He'd pissed away the better part of a decade hammering out overpriced commercials, an unwatchable remake of Swept Away, and the tedious, pseudointelluctual-bullshit-spewing Revolver. Ritchie was technically still Mr. Madonna as RocknRolla was underway, but his latest film is at long last return to form and by far his best work in close to a full decade.

Guy Ritchie isn't just shoving leftovers from Snatch in the microwave to rake in a quick buck, though. He's older, he's been knocked around a bit, and he can see the bigger picture now. Ditto for the thugs that head up RocknRolla. The Wild Bunch -- led by Scottish bruiser One Two (Gerard Butler) and his buddy Mumbles (Idris Elba) -- don't want to sling around drugs or anything like that anymore. There's bigger money in going legit...in real estate. The sticker price for land in London is skyrocketing with all of the cash being funneled in from billionaires out of the Eastern Bloc, and the two of 'em want in. Neither of them have the connections to grease the right palms, though, and the middleman they're saddled with -- an aging, xenophobic gangster named Lenny (Tom Wilkinson) -- screws them out of a couple million without even giving them anything to show for it.

Don't fret,
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though: RocknRolla is set before the whole global economic meltdown, so there's plenty of money out there to be had. You just have to know where to get it, like...oh, let's say palling around with a foxy accountant (Thandie Newton) with a taste of excitement who'll fill you in on how to knock over a Russian billionaire's money transfers. It's an easy seven large, but the problem here...? That's Lenny's loot that the Russkie (Karel Roden) was having shuttled around. By the time it's all over, you're looking at a heist for a lucky painting, a drug-addled rock star who's faked his death, Chechen war criminals playing a round of my-scar-is-better-than-yours before hunting down the Wild Bunch, same-sex seduction to out an informer, a badnik doing a whole Casey Jones thing with a golf club, and -- why not? -- torture-by-crayfish.

RocknRolla does kind of shrug off the hyperkinetic pace and really addictive supporting cast that defined Snatch and Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels, but in pretty much every other possible way, this is a long-overdue return to form for Guy Ritchie. Like most everything else Ritchie's penned since first making his mark a little over ten years ago, RocknRolla's dozen and change characters are all interwoven in an elaborate and cacklingly clever plot. His dark, depraved sense of humor and ear for razor-sharp dialogue have both crept back in, from a botched heist where One Two and Mumbles keep pestering the schlubs they're robbing to help them figure out how to get that Mercedes-Benz in reverse to Lenny's right hand (Mark Strong) instructing his thugs on the art of the proper slap. Ritchie
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even grabs one stock cliché -- the chest-puffing macho guy stuck in gay panic mode -- and twists it into a completely ingenious running gag, one that gets more and more brilliant as the movie screams along.

Ritchie doesn't pull any punches with RocknRolla's violence either, although even with a fairly hefty body count, there isn't an actual kill on-screen. The movie's more fascinated with the twists and turns in its sprawling plot than in slugs to the gut or hundreds of spent shells clinking to the ground, but when RocknRolla goes for it, it's balls-out. You can take that literally at one point: its biggest action setpiece pits One Two and company against a couple of unstoppable thugs in a sporting goods store. It's a bloody brawl that grabs the wheel and keeps taking one sharp, breakneck left turn after another. Just as the fight seems like it's plowed its way to a bloodied knuckled-close, that pair of Chechen war criminals playing babysitter bounce back for another round. It seems like it's never going to end, yeah, but with the way RocknRolla keeps upping the ante with each swing, I'm not sure I actually wanted it to. Part of the appeal of that long, long sequence is the way it's intercut with a kind of mundane rendezvous in a ritzy restaurant, making for one of the best mixes of routine and "...wow" this side of Don't Look Now. Ritchie opts to work the editing more cleverly like that rather than lean on off-kilter camerawork; other standout moments in that same vein include a fantastic hypothetical-flash-forward near the end and a short but frantic sex scene that takes its cues straight out of Requiem for a Dream.

RocknRolla is the movie Guy Ritchie needed to make, taking the brutality and wicked sense of humor that sparked legions of imitators and filtering them through older and more seasoned eyes. It's not as sharp as Snatch, no, but Ritchie is certainly steering in the right direction, and the promise of a followup in its end credits leaves me hopeful that the best is yet to come. Highly Recommended.


Video
RocknRolla's stylized visuals start by draining away virtually every last trace of color, leaving the movie looking gloomy, overcast, and, for long, long stretches, sepia-toned. The contrast has been flattened out as well, sapping away any depth or dimensionality. RocknRolla was shot digitally, and its texture is remarkably clean and smooth, completely devoid of any background noise at all. Definition is consistently impressive from start to finish as well -- textures in faces and clothing along with intricate details in the brick and mortar are really eye-catching -- although the scope image is still a bit softer than usual. RocknRolla's distinctive visual style veers away from the conventional look of most of the movies that have washed up on Blu-ray, but as best I can tell, this is the way the movie was meant to be seen.

Apparently that exceptionally clean digital photography makes for a movie that's not all that tough to compress; even with its two hour runtime and a couple of high definition extras, RocknRolla fits comfortably on this single layer disc.

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Audio
RocknRolla is packing a solid 16-bit Dolby TrueHD track. There are only a few scenes in the movie that crank up the action, and it kinda goes without saying that those make for the most aggressive moments in the soundtrack, with a jarringly violent car wreck and sprays of machine gun fire standing out as particularly immersive. Even when the intensity is dialed down, though, RocknRolla takes better advantage of the six-channel setup than most, fleshing out the hustle and bustle of the streets of London with a strong sense of atmosphere. The light echo in Lenny's cavernous, crumbling former power station, blaring rock in a club before the power's flipped, and Ritchie's brilliant soundtrack are also reinforced effectively in the surround channels. Dialogue is nicely balanced in the mix as well, although there are some stretches -- in cars, mostly -- where the quality of the recording isn't all that hot. Otherwise...? I don't really have much of anything to gripe about here. It's not an overcaffeinated mix but seems to do what it needs to well enough.

Also served up here are traditional Dolby Digital tracks in English (including a descriptive narration track), French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The list of subtitles includes streams in English (SDH only), French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese.

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Extras
  • Deleted Scene (2 min.): RocknRolla only tosses on one deleted scene this time around: One Two hitting the treadmill while fistfuls of exposition and a steady stream of cigarette smoke billow his way. It's a pretty clunky scene, really, bogged down by stilted, overly expository dialogue and all sorts of pseudophilosophical bullshit about One Two running from himself. This is the only one of the disc's extras to not be presented in high-def, although it is in anamorphic widescreen and generally looks alright.

  • Blokes, Birds, and Backhanders: Inside RocknRolla (15 min.; HD): Heavy
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    on recapping the plot and belting out one clip after another from the movie, RocknRolla's making-of featurette is aimed more at folks who haven't actually sat down and watched the flick already. Yeah, there's a bit of behind the scenes footage, and a big chunk of the cast and crew gets some face time on-camera, but it's really just a plug for a movie you've already bought.

  • Guy's Town (8 min.; HD): The disc's other featurette runs through the parade of locations throughout London where RocknRolla was shot, and it touches on how the face of the city has transformed into something completely unrecognizable in recent years. There's a lot more meat to gnaw on this bone than the stale EPK bothers with, and some of the same material from "Blokes, Birds, and Backhanders" is actually recycled here.

  • Audio Commentary: Writer/director Guy Ritchie sits down with actor Mark Strong for RocknRolla's commentary track, and it's an okay chat. Their dry sense of humor is the best thing about it, from the stack of porn rags with oversized asses that Ludacris lugs around to a gun-toting belly dancer with 0% body fat. There's nothing all that insightful about the story aside from Ritchie mentioning that a lot of what unspools in RocknRolla is nicked from actual events, and the pace drags down in its second hour as he quietly watches the movie and starts rattling off lines of dialogue with his characters. In the same vein as "Guy's Town", a lot of the discussion swirls around when and where particular bits were shot, and apparently pretty much every last one of those locations has since been revamped into luxury apartments. Fans of the movie wondering if Ritchie spells out what some of the ambiguous wording in its final few minutes mean might be disappointed that he keeps it vague. It's kind of an unremarkable commentary track but is decent enough to still be worth a listen for completists, though.

  • Digital Copy: The second disc in this set serves up a digital copy of the movie.
Oh, and RocknRolla comes packaged in a cardboard slipcase if you're into that sort of thing.


The Final Word
Guy Ritchie's back. Highly Recommended.


A Few More Screengrabs...


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