Does Guy Ritchie – audacious creator of cockney gangster films Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch – have anything more to say to the world? Not much. RocknRolla is a self conscious re-working of his now familiar style and storyworld – but this time without the charm that pervaded the central characters of those two earlier films. It’s a hardened affair, twenty minutes too long – but studded nevertheless with some of the wonderfully cynical dialogue that Ritchie can deliver when at his best.
Story? Well, it’s a multithreaded Ritchie narrative, voiced to audience in deeply ironic tone by Archie (Mark Strong), second in command to London strong man Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Lenny’s done a trade with new Russian shaker and mover in town Uri (Kaerl Roden), but once hands have been shaken on the dodgy deal, things keep going wrong. The money that Uri is meant to be paying Lenny keeps finding its way into the path of low-level street thugs One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba), whilst the painting that Uri temporarily gave Lenny to prove his good faith, gets stolen by Lenny’s charismatic junkie step-son Johnny (Toby Kebbell) and then lost. Both Lenny and Uri – the two biggest thugs in the East End – then have to turn the town upside down to find their respective sides of the bargain.
There’s no faulting the performances here – it’s a large and flawless cast, delivering the mannered and often hilarious lines with panache and flair. Kebbell, as the poetic drugged out rock and roll singer – who takes over the story as it progresses – is extraordinary – watch out for him! Delightfully dry are Wilkinson as the grumpy old boss and a swag of actors playing smaller walk on parts – in particular Matt King playing Cookie. The film’s style and choice of music are unmistakably Ritchie.
Despite the humour and cool look, RocknRolla suffers from the lack of an endearing personality at its core. Narrator Archie is upstaged by Johnny as the story progresses, disintegrating into a stock character rather than the thoughtful loyal protagonist we need to hang our hat on – Perhaps it’s all just too Ritchie-rich.