RocknRolla Blu-ray Review
Quick Take: Ritchie reaches back to his roots, mumbled dialogue and all.
Just when I was about to write director Guy Ritchie off for good, he throws us a bone with RocknRolla (2008). After bursting onto the cinematic scene with his successful one-two punch of British crime drama/comedies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), he lost critical and audience favor with the lackluster follow-ups Swept Away (2002) and Revolver (2005). His latest effort, while no means revolutionary, is back on familiar ground.
There is not much novelty to the story as it feels considerably like a retread of his first two films including a London setting, amateurish thieves, a nasty crime boss, numerous double crosses, a prized McGuffin that gets stolen multiple times and distinctive use of pop/rock music. It is probably an effort in futility to attempt any high-level detailing of the labyrinthine twists and double-dealings of the plot but here goes.
One Two (Gerard Butler), Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), all members of the crime gang “The Wild Bunch,” are ensnared by gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) in a real estate scam. To repay their debt, they accept a job from accountant Stella (Thandie Newton) to steal a money delivery intended for her boss Uri (Karl Roden) who is a Russian land developer in business with Lenny who was coincidentally to be the ultimate recipient of the money. While all this is going on, there is the Russian’s lucky painting that was lent to Lenny but is stolen by drug addicted rock star Johnny Quid who happens to be Lenny’s son. The painting gets stolen from Johnny, passes through One Two’s hands and eventually ends up in Stella’s possession with her not realizing it belongs to her boss which you can imagine causes complications.
There are more characters and further twists but you get the gist and, if you think it sounds confusing, wait till you actually watch it. I still cannot decide if RocknRolla is more convoluted than Ritchie’s other films, and to be honest, I had to sit through it twice since between the characteristic guttural mumbling of the actors (still none as bad as Brad Pitt’s gypsy boxer in Snatch), quirky narrative and fast-paced editing, it was difficult to fully absorb in one sitting. The first five minutes lay down plot points and character introductions with a montage of visual pans that move so briskly, there is a good chance some rewinding will be required.
While the script does not break new ground, where RocknRolla shows improvement is with a more refined style both in the visuals and editing. Ritchie has been polishing his directing chops that he uses to good results with a lot of his signature touches present but wrapped in a more stylistic package including a tighter structure and more prominent artistic flair. A prime example is the sex scene between Stella and One Two that lasts all of five seconds but is one of the most memorable and amusing I have seen. Though the overall effort shows a lack of innovation, if you enjoyed his first two films chances are you will like this as well. Just be sure to pay attention or you will quickly fall behind.
Warner delivers RocknRolla to Blu-ray with a 2.40:1 VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer that compared to a lot of current films in high-def is slightly soft, but this is an artistic choice to present a polished smooth texture rather than any fault in the encoding. The transfer is pristinely clean offering decent detail and no grain to be found though not due to it being removed but because the film was shot with high-def cameras using an exposure that did not generate any digital noise. A muted color palette and elevated contrast cement the stylized look. Your enjoyment of the visuals will depend on how you take to the appearance of the film, but this is a very nice looking transfer that faithfully reproduces the director and cinematographer’s artistic choices.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio allows dialog to come through clearly though it will not necessarily help you understand what everyone is saying. The movie has many moments that are dominated by dialog with the center as the prominent channel and environmental effects in the other speakers. When music or action becomes pronounced, there is often a noticeable presence throughout the surround setup and sub with a great use of directionality.
What bothered me on first viewing, but I subsequently realized is an intentional consequence of the way the film is designed, is how the audio “moves” as quickly as the visuals and plot. The multiple intertwining plotlines are juggled in an almost precarious fashion, and the soundtrack keeps up at every turn in a manner that can be abrupt. Once you get in the groove of the movie, having the focus of the audio shift quickly from dialog to a room filled with music to dialog with music in the background and back to just dialog does not seem so exhausting. This is a solid lossless track that complements Ritchie’s visual flair.
There are also English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks with subtitles in English, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
We do not get a release loaded with extras but considering the movie was mostly buried at the box office it is surprising Warner even bothered with any special features. There is a Feature-Length Audio Commentary from Ritchie and Mark Strong who plays yet another important character as Lenny’s right-hand man Archie. While by no means the worst I have endured, it is not the best either but does lean towards providing a decent mix of entertainment and production background. The two participants come off very friendly which allows for a relaxed feel and some good humor but also lets them get off track easily.
The rest of the extras are comprised of the following: A single Deleted Scene (2:00) in standard definition with One Two running on a treadmill while talking to Mumbles. It is vaguely interesting but nothing you will watch twice. Two short featurettes in HD culled from the same footage of interview snippets with the director and cast. Neither has amazing depth but are worth a viewing. Blokes, Birds and Backhanders: Inside RocknRolla (15:03) gives some random overviews of the production though not enough detail to deserve such an extended title. Guy’s Town (8:32) details the director’s fascination with London in his films.
If you have seen Ritchie’s earlier crime dramas there is nothing overly original in RocknRolla, but it is a welcome return to form after his recent missteps. The film is complicated, fast-paced and possibly requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate with equal moments where it seems brilliantly done and too clever for its own good. The end titles promise a sequel but hopefully Ritchie will be able to successfully branch out with his next film, Sherlock Holmes, and not have to rely on his previous themes going forward. If you are inclined to watch RocknRolla, the high-def visuals and audio on Warner’s Blu-ray are the best presentation available.
- Robert Searle