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ROCKNROLLA
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Toby Kebbell, Jeremy Piven, Chris Bridges
Director: Guy Ritchie
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: January 27, 2009

“You didn’t realize that they had guns? Big, long, dangerous machine guns…with war criminals attached to the trigger.”

Film ****

There’s nothing quite like seeing a great filmmaker make a monstrous comeback after an unfortunate slump, and no one was in bigger need of a career revival than the gifted Guy Ritchie. He made such a big impression on the film circuit with his fantastic crime capers Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, only to follow those with two consecutive train wrecks in the form of Swept Away and Revolver. Many felt that those failures came as the result of his marriage to a certain iconic pop star, but we won’t get into that.

But Ritchie has made a remarkable comeback with the ferociously entertaining RockNRolla. Not only does it help erase the memory of his past two films, but it serves as a firm reminder that Ritchie is a true cinematic badass. Not only did it score a place on my top ten list of 2008, but for me it came close to stealing the crown from Snatch as Ritchie’s best piece of work to date.

As a filmmaker, Ritchie has demonstrated that you can take a specific formula, rework it, and have it result in a piece of riveting filmmaking that can stand on its own, kind of similar to what Martin Scorsese does with his crime movies. Those who criticize him for making the same type of crime caper over and over are rushing to judgment and finding something to nitpick at. While this contains elements much similar to both Lock, Stock and Snatch, there are some significant differences in the story.

RockNRolla is perhaps Ritchie’s most convoluted film yet, but it straps you in right from the dynamic opening titles sequences (the best I’ve seen for any film in a long time). It’s thoroughly energetic with memorable characters, razor sharp dialogue, one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in a long time and even some moments involving both Ritchie’s unique out-of-order storytelling method and editing techniques. And it wouldn’t be a true Guy Ritchie movie without a great lineup of music, and this one includes what is easily the best soundtrack of any movie this year.

What sets these crazy events in motion is a real estate deal orchestrated by veteran London kingpin, and “property magician” Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson). He is striking a deal with Uri (Karel Roden), a Russian businessman/gangster who’s moving in on London territory. Feeling good about how the deal is going, Uri considers letting Cole borrow a lucky painting as a pure friendly gesture, as well as collateral for the large sum of money coming his way.

Much to Cole’s surprise, the painting eventually goes missing. This obviously will bring forth serious damage on the real estate deal. Cole orders his second in command, Archie (Mark Strong), to search all of London for the painting before all hell breaks loose.

We then get introduced to a number of characters who all tie into the disappearance of not just the painting, but $7 million in cash that Uri gave to Lenny as part of the business deal. They include small time hoods One Two (Gerard Butler), Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), who make up a gang known as The Wild Bunch. Also connected is Stella (Thandie Newton), Uri’s personal accountant who hires One Two and his boys to steal the $7 million from Cole, not knowing that the money had previously belonged to her boss and is expected to come back his way.

Also playing a huge role in the proceedings is the actual RockNRolla himself, former rock star turned junkie Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell). At first, you aren’t quite sure how or why he is connected to the events. But when the third act of the movie kicks in, all will be revealed and you are likely going to be blown away…only not in the same way like several people in the movie.

As you can see, Ritchie loves concocting a convoluted story as a writer. As an audience member, I love watching it being executed by way of the director’s one-of-a-kind style. It’s important to keep the viewer hooked in and interested when so much is going on in the story, and Ritchie pulls it off terrifically.

I mentioned earlier that the movie contains one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in a while, which is riveting for many reasons. It’s a sequence that excels simultaneously in tension and hilarity as One Two is pursued on foot by two very indestructible (and I do mean indestructible) Russians. The fantastic use of the rock track “We Had Love” by The Scientists in this scene further illustrates that Ritchie belongs in the same league as Scorsese and Tarantino when it comes to perfect and original use of music.

But what makes the sequence memorable is how Ritchie lets it unfold in an unexpected way. We see a bruised and limping One Two meet up with Stella in a classy restaurant with a bag of money. Then the action scene unfolds little by little as he explains to her how hard it was to complete the job.

I can’t sum it up any better than this; RockNRolla is cinematic dynamite in huge quantities. It showcases Guy Ritchie at his absolute best, and proves once again why he’s one of the best filmmakers working in the crime movie genre. It’s hard to find a movie that ends up being both one of the best of the year and a truly fun experience at the movies, but this flick ended up being both!

Video ****

This Blur-ray release from Warner boasts a most terrific image to accompany Guy Ritchie’s distinct visual style. The color scheme of the film is a bit unconventional, as it consists of a mostly desaturated look as a way of visualizing London’s criminal underworld. The HD format serves this presentation tremendously well, and the anamorphic picture dazzles with crisp, striking detail throughout.

Audio ****

You can always expect a Guy Ritchie film to dazzle in the sound department as far as music, sound editing and gunfire are concerned. This is the first Ritchie film I’ve experienced on Blu-ray. Sure enough, the TrueHD mix helps in cranking up the awesomely energetic level sound the film has to spare. Music is used in nearly every scene, whether it be instrumental score music or one of the many jammin tracks on the movie’s playlist, and the surround channels take full advantage of every song. In addition, dialogue delivery is superb and the bits of action, most notably the standout chase sequence, play off in brilliant form.

Features ***

Included is a fun commentary with Guy Ritchie and actor Mark Strong, as well as an Additional Scene and a brief featurette titled “Guy’s Town”, which focuses on the director’s passion for capturing London on film. Plus, and exclusive to this Blu-ray release is an additional featurette titled, “Blokes, Birds and Backhanders: Inside RocknRolla”. Both featurettes are also in HD.

Also included is a second disc containing a Digital Copy of the movie.

Summary:

With RockNRolla, Guy Ritchie has made a larger-than-life return to form as a filmmaker in addition to one of his very best films to date. It’s a fast, brutal and brilliant ride of a movie, and a remarkable experience in Blu-ray. It illustrates once again that no one knows the British underworld better than Ritchie, and I can’t wait to see him revisit the territory.

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