RocknRolla (2008)

(In theaters, November 2008) It may be that marrying Madonna was the worst artistic mistake Guy Richie ever made, and his partial return to form with this film in the wake of his divorce will only intensify this supposition. Going back to Richie’s London-underworld roots, RocknRolla isn’t quite as good as Snatch or Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, but at least it’s quite a bit above Swept Away. The flashy direction is back, as is the rock-and-roll soundtrack. From the first few intense minutes, the story steadily complexifies, until you can’t tell the good from the bad guys. And there lies the biggest of the film’s problem: For all of the crazy narrative energy, bravura set-pieces and Thandie Newton’s purring performance, it’s never too clear who, exactly, we should be cheering for. There are no everyman protagonists in this crazy gallery of ever-crazed criminals. Mark Strong may be admirable in his second breakout performance of the year (mere weeks after Body of Lies), but his crime-lord personae isn’t one to empathize with. Unlike Richie’s two best films, RocknRolla is a performance to be watched rather than a film to like. It’s quite a bit of fun, and a really promising step back up in his career, but it’s still missing something underneath the surface gloss.

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