Movie Review: RocknRolla (2008)

Toby Kebbell as Johnny Quid in RocknRolla
Photo: Warner Bros.

As a fan of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels I was anxious to see RocknRolla, a film billed as Ritchie’s return to the genre that made him popular — Blighty gangstas! — and it delivers in all its familiar fashion. Of course, such delivery can alternatively be seen as a negative considering much of the film has that “been there” feel since Ritchie’s style of directing and zip-bang editing has been copied and even spoofed since he first embraced the style with Lock Stock back in 1999. Luckily for me, I like it — a lot actually — and welcome back the man that mastered it.

In terms of story, it’s fast paced and intricate so keep up with me here. I’ll skip over the film’s opening and begin by introducing Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) a London gangster who is trying to close a real-estate deal with a Russian tough guy named Uri (Karel Roden). Uri and Lenny shake hands and as a gesture of good faith Uri loans Lenny his “lucky” painting. It’s ability to bring luck is unknown, but it’s ability to cause havoc is soon realized, but more on that in a second.

The deal being worked out is worth $7 million and when Uri asks his trusted accountant (Thandie Newton) to get the cash for him it somehow ends up stolen in transport. Who took it? Well, that plays into the opening of the film so I will leave it to you to get the details on that. However, about that painting… Yeah, it’s gone. Stolen by Lenny’s rock star son-in-law Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) who has just faked his own death and is currently drugged up and hiding out leaving us with one missing rock star, one missing painting, $7 million missing and a real-estate deal to get done. A conundrum indeed and that’s just the lead in and a small handful of the characters that play a role in this ride.

The film is narrated by Mark Strong who makes his second major appearance this year, following up Body of Lies, playing Archie, the right-hand man to Lenny Cole and while sophisticated he does have a bit of a mean side. Strong executes his role well as does just about everyone else in the cast which includes a fleet of names including Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Idris Elba, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Piven, Tom Hardy and Toby Kebbell. Of the bunch Strong certainly stands out, but Kebbell is great as the long-winded junkie set to pick up where daddy left off should Ritchie’s proposed trilogy ever get made. Kebbell gets the meatiest dialogue and delivers it in such a droll flair (if there is such a thing) that I only wanted to listen to him pontificate further.

However, acting is almost secondary in this flick as actors seem to chew up Ritchie’s scripts and spit them out exactly as intended. Where a Guy Ritchie film succeeds or fails is in its story’s execution and this one works. For the most part, there is no secret as to what kind of film this was going to be. It’s just another tightly woven shit-storm conceived by Guy Ritchie and delivered in the usual Guy Ritchie fashion. If it feels like you’ve seen it before, that’s because you have. This is just a new chapter in the same book with with the same author. When it comes to Brit gangsters Guy Ritchie is the Stephen King of film. I don’t have a problem with that at all.