Dir/scr: Guy Ritchie. UK. 2008. 114mins.

RocknRolla returns Guy Ritche precisely to the world that made his name; the low-level underworld of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1999) and Snatch (2000) which were in turn the inspiration for a UK geezer subgenre (Sexy Beast, Layer Cake, etc). It’s a step back to basics and an assured return to form for Ritchie, leaving the viewer marvelling afresh about how a director this confident could have produced Swept Away and Revolver. Can he only make the one film’

Commercially, that isn’t the point. There, the main challenge for RocknRolla is to get viewers back into the cinema to see a film that feels dated - it’s almost a nostalgia trip, although a fun, smart and snappy one at that. It’s not just a case of Ritchie going back to basics with story and construction; stylistically he borrows very heavily from himself as well, and that makes Rocknrolla feel very last century at times.

The success of RocknRolla is going to take enthusiastic world of mouth and some perseverance and grit on the part of Warner Brothers, but this could do all the business of a Snatch (w’wide $83m, $30.3m in the US, $17.5m in the UK). Lead Gerard Butler is no Brad Pitt, but at least you can understand what he’s saying here. Internationally, Ritchie’s name still has some cachet, and if this goes out on the back of a solid UK gross, it could gain some traction, especially with urban crowds. Either way, it’s a comeback for Ritchie, despite the caveats.

Ritchie’s own screenplay here is sharp and observant amidst the usual gangster banter viewers are so familiar with. At its heart is the friction between old-style London crime lord Lenny Cole (Wilkinson, playing against type) and the new Russian criminals led by oligarch Uri (Roden, helpfully shot against the backdrop of a football pitch). RocknRolla’s gang of anti-heroes bounce around between these two figures. The action kicks off when Uri asks Lenny to smooth the way for some of his real estate deals by paying off the crooked local politicians he has in his pocket, lending him his ‘lucky painting’ in the process.

Things go wrong, of course. Lenny and his sidekick Archie (Strong, very good) can’t quite grease the wheels fast enough. Uri, meanwhile, is being robbed blind by his thrill-seeking accountant (Newton, good), who uses the services of likely lads One Two (Butler), Mumbles (Elba) and Handsome Bob (Hardy) to carry out her heists. And things spiral out of control when Lenny’s supposedly-dead and deeply-unpleasant rockstar junkie stepson (Kebbell) steals the painting and Uri decides he wants it back.

RocknRolla is almost defiantly entertaining throughout and Ritchie directs at fast pace, a wide roll call of supporting characters helping to move the proceedings along. Nobody here is pleasant but they do grow on you. Production values are as expected, and Ritchie’s shooting style hasn’t changed much in the last decade.

Production companies
Dark Castle Entertainment

International distribution
Warner Bros

Guy Ritchie
Joel Silver
Susan Downey
Steve Clark-Hall

Executive producers
Steve Richards
Navid McIlhargey

David Higgs

Production design
Richard Bridgland

Steve Isles

James Herbert

Main cast
Gerard Butler
Thandie Newton
Tom Wilkinson
Mark Strong
Idris Elba
Tom Hardy
Jeremy Piven
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges
Karl Roden
Jimi Mistry
Toby Kebbell
Geoff Bell