No matter how much people love or hate/like or dislike Guy Ritchie, when the man makes a new film people take notice. RocknRolla is his latest and was announced as the film that would bring him back to form. While I don't agree with that statement for several reasons, RocknRolla indeed relates much more to his earliest successes than to his later work.
I like Guy Ritchie. I liked his earlier films, purposely avoided Swept Away and found that Revolver was every bit as good as his first two films. Still, Ritchie got sufficiently bashed by the critics to have him turn back to his typical crime antics. RocknRolla has all of the ingredients of early work, yet 10 years later the appeal seems to have faded just a little.
Story-wise, RocknRolla is a mix of several stories, crossing each other more than once and coming together neatly at the end of the film. The film is set amidst the British world of crime, through Ritchie cleaned up his act a little and went for the real estate angle. Still, it's all shady characters and suspicious looking people roaming through his newest. If all this sounds familiar, that's because Snatch. and Lock, Stock feature very (very) similar basics.
Ritchie has been called a Tarantino clone from day one, and while his films feature a similar setup as Pulp Fiction, Ritchie's flair is quite different from his American competitor. The British setting alone provides a very different atmosphere from Tarantino's American gangsters. 50% of Ritchie's appeal is without a doubt the British language and it's full, flat and harsh sounding dialects. There's no cursing like British cursing, which is an advantage that can't be matched by the best writer in the world.
That said, it's obvious that Ritchie is growing a little older. Dialogues aren't as snappy as they used to be, visually the film is a little tamer and the soundtrack is not as edgy as it was before. Everything about RocknRolla seems more toned down, which is a little strange considering the title of the film. RocknRolla looks and feels a little classier as a whole, though in the end it is still very much a Guy Ritchie film.
But there is still flair aplenty. Visually the film is quite accomplished. Subdued colors, strong use of lighting and perfect framing make it a very pleasant experience. There is some camera trickery resulting in a very cool chase scene and of course the film includes a scene that features on-screen text (where Ritchie also tips its hat to the dance scene in Pulp Fiction in a very interesting way). Another point of comparison for the Ritchie-Tarantino debate no doubt. The use of the score is impeccable too, and even though the music itself is a little tamer, it flows particularly well with the rest of the film.
RocknRolla is a film of a director who's in control of his material and has matured quite a bit over the years. Depending on what you like and want, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. But no matter how you look at it, RocknRolla is still a very solid entry in Ritchie's oeuvre where he demonstrates his feel for timing, swift narratives and sweeping flair. I myself like the spirit of his earlier films a little better, but I was still able to enjoy this film quite a bit.
For any Ritchie fan out there, RocknRolla is surely a film worth watching, as long as you don't expect another refreshing masterpiece. All elements of his earlier successes are featured here, the film still has buckets of flair and flies by in no time. It's always good to see a new Ritchie film, and RocknRolla didn't disappoint.