Rocknrolla

This movie’s not for everyone. It’s violent, perverse, and nasty. It’s about men who are corrupt, selfish, and sometimes unbelievably stupid. There’s only one woman in the movie and she’s corrupt and selfish, too. She wears fantastic Christian Loubitin red-soled high heels–retail $800 US–so she’s not really one of the fellas anyway.

It’s all high-powered testosterone–racing, jumping, punching action, unlimited greed, flashy toys, fast cars, turf wars and deals gone terribly bad. Some of the blokes are loyal pals but most are disloyal clods who’d sell their grandmother for a good tip on the next horse race. Nobody’s nice, not even heartthrob Gerard Butler. These guys shoot first, then ask, but before they do that they’ve probably first beaten you to a bloody pulp. As the heroin addict rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell, Control) explains in the movie’s provocative opening, “Some guys live for money, or drugs, or sex or fame. A ‘rocknrolla’ wants it all.”

By now you might be wondering why I gave this movie a full five stars. Yep, blimey, I’m surprised myself. But it’s the only fair rating for a movie that is, without a doubt, one of the most masterfully put together movies this year. It’s stylish, complex, mysterious, even at times hilarious. Rocknrolla is not meant to be a documentary. If it were, it would probably make you sick. But as an enthusiastic, over the top spoof, it’s totally entertaining.

Written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch)–who just got flung to the winds by ex-wife, Madonna–Rocknrolla proves he’s learned a bit about translating MTV flash to the big screen.

The script is impressively literate (which means you’ll need to pay close attention to each line of dialogue even if you can’t understand all the London colloquialisms) and full of rich characters, whose seemingly disparate pasts all come together like billiard balls on a collision course.

Real estate, not drugs, is the new craving in London. Hordes of Eastern European and Russian crime lords are turning their ill-gotten goods into high priced capitalist projects along the River Thames. Russian billionaire Uri Omavich (Karel Roden, Running Scared) dreams of constructing a new mega-sports arena to rival the Coliseum and he needs the palms of London bureaucrats greased to get approval. So he approaches the main guy to go to for such things, old-time mobster, Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton). Lenny wears tailored suits but he still knows how to use old-fashioned methods like blackmail, extortion, and threats of dismemberment to cut through annoying red tape.

Uri agrees to pay Lenny’s exorbitant fee and he gives Lenny his favorite good-luck painting as a token of their agreement. What these two big-time crooks fail to realize is that they are surrounded by an ever-expanding multitude of small-time crooks, who are as hungry for their money as they are and are going to make their simple plan very, very difficult.

One Two (Gerard Butler, 300) is an enterprising but not too bright junior con man who hangs out with his pals in the backroom of the local pub waiting for criminal activities to appear. Stella (Thandie Newton, Crash) Uri’s gorgeous but conniving accountant, gets One Two to rob the truck delivering Uri’s money and split the loot with her. Then somebody steals the good-luck painting Lenny has been keeping for Uri. So Uri and Lenny are really upset and most of London’s underground gets involved in their attempts to re-establish criminal equilibrium. What’s fascinating is that the hierarchy of criminals has such a wide variety of motivations, some dating back for many years.

Everybody’s running around trying to back stab or front kick or slowly waterboard everybody else and things are pretty lethal every time they speed around another corner. If nothing else, all the guys in this movie have a lot of energy.

Don’t look for any glimpses of Buckingham Palace here. Guy Ritchie knows his way around off-beat London and his love affair with the city’s vibrant, slightly deranged new skyline is contagious.

Being a good movie, all the bad guys in Rocknrolla get their comeuppance in the end. So when you walk out of the theatre, you feel satisfied that after all the violent perversity that preceded it, justice was finally done–at least for a few minutes.

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