When I sat down to watch Revolver a second time I tried to remember what it was about exactly. I came up with very little. Vague recollections of chess and André Benjamin floated through my mind, but with very few connections in between. I remember the film not being received too well by press and fans alike, but I also remember me liking it a lot regardless. It turned out to be a pleasant reunion and I strongly believe Revolver is up there with Guy Ritchie's best.
Revolver was Ritchie's big comeback film. After two successful crime comedies he shot himself in the foot directing Swept Away, a disaster of a film starring his former better half, Madonna. Not exactly what his fans were expecting, but that was far from the only reason the film bombed. He had his work cut out for him when he started work on Revolver, yet for some reason getting back in the grace of his former fans didn't seem like a big enough challenge. Ritchie set out to reinvent himself.
Reinvent is maybe too grave a word though. Ritchie's former films are never that far off, even so, Revolver is still different enough for fans of this earlier work to think twice about jumping in blindly. Ritchie moved the setting to Las Vegas, kept the petty criminals but made it into a game of cons. Hence, Revolver became a film about mind games rather than low-ranking criminals roughing it out. At least, for the larger part of the film. There's still a couple of scenes where fists are raised and shots are fired, but halfway through Ritchie starts messing with people's brains.
Jake Green is a decent bloke who ends up in prison after being framed by a notorious gambler (Macha). After serving a two-year sentence he's out for revenge, but not before getting blistering rich first. In prison, he learned a thing or two about beating the odds and with that knowledge he sets out to con the gambler who got him locked away. What Green doesn't know is that someone is playing him too. Before long things get pretty complicated and Green can trust nobody, not even himself.
Visually Revolver is Ritchie's best effort so far. The film looks top-notch, from the almost mathematical camera work to the vibrant, overpowering colors, every frame simply looks stunning. But as always with Ritchie, it's the editing that stands out the most. This kind of visual trickery doesn't really tend to age well, but in Ritchie's hands it becomes an artistic tool rather than some simple contemporary visual make-up. Also interesting to note is the short animation sequence used halfway through, which I found atrocious on my first viewing, but actually looked kinda nice the second time around.
The soundtrack is typical Ritchie too. Slight electronic influences make for slick, crispy background music, but none of it is all that memorable. It's a good score for this type of film, but just not all that special. More interesting (and divisive) is the voice-over, which weighs a lot harder on the overall atmosphere. I'm a sucker for juicy British accents, so I pretty much loved it (especially the elevator scene, where Ritchie get really playful with the voice track), but if you can't stand voice-overs Revolver probably isn't the film for you.
Jason Statham is a Ritchie regular, and it's not hard to see why. The two complement each other like bread and butter. Even though Statham doesn't have much range as an actor, his performance as Jack Green is one of the best in his career. It's not just a one-man show though, Ray Liotta shines as Macha while André Benjamin and Vincent Pastore are perfect as Avi and Zach, an ominous duo continuously messing with Green's head.
The first half of Revolver plays like a pretty regular con story, things get a little weirder in the second half. Ritchie borrows heavily from other mindfuck films, but ends up with something that is still pretty straightforward. Sure enough things get a bit more muddled past the halfway point, but because the film keeps hammering on the explanation it's really not that hard to understand what's going on. At first this might feel like somewhat of a failure on Ritchie's part, but when you see the mindfuckery as a mere stylistic tool it all starts to make sense.
This may be Ritchie's lowest ranking film (let's just forget about Swept Away), but it's actually one of his best. Revolver is slick, stylistically impressive and atmospherically cohesive. It's a small departure from his earlier films, but that's actually a welcome change of scenery. And it holds up surprisingly well over time. Maybe it's because I don't remember much of my first viewing, but Revolver still felt fresh and exciting the second time around. Hopefully somewhere down the line people will start to see Revolver as one of the best things Ritchie did in his career, because it deserves more praise than it's currently getting.