RocknRolla (2008)

Starring: Gerald Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, Karel Rodin, Thandie Newton, Tom Hardy, Idris Elba, Toby Kebbell, Ludacris,

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Gerald Butler and Idris Elba in Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla

'Guy Ritchie is back on diamond form!' the posters scream. But after the ghastly debacle that was Revolver, the burning question is, is that diamond 24 carat or a fugazi?

Like his smash hits Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, RocknRolla returns us to the mean streets of London's seedy underworld.

Our narrator, Archie (the ever-reliable Mark Strong), is the right hand man of property tycoon and all round dodgy shyster Lenny 'who d'you think we are - the Mafia?' Cole (the equally reliable Tom Wilkinson). Cole is brokering a deal with Russian Mafian billionaire Uri (Karel Rodin), who wants to smooth over the planning permission for a new football stadium he's building. As Cole has a corrupt councillor (Jimi Mistry) in his pocket, this is easily accomplished – for a fee. But Uri's accountant Stella (Thandie Newton), a posh bird who likes a walk on the wild side, not only arranges delivery of the seven million euro bribe, she also hires underworld odd job men One Two (Gerald Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) to steal it.

And the RocknRolla of the title? That'll be Lenny's philosophising junkie stepson Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), who further stirs things up by faking his own death (for the third time that year) then stealing the lucky painting Uri has lent Lenny to seal their deal.

Confused? You may well be – and that's a highly simplified synopsis of the plot set-up. But don't worry, it's perfectly possible to follow the film if you're not bothered about some of the made up Ritchie mockney nonsense slipping quietly over your head.

Thandie Newton and Gerald Butler in RocknRolla

On the whole, however, RocknRolla is not a film that wants to go quietly. Booming voiceovers, razor-sharp dialogue, ricocheting shoot 'em ups and a grinding rock'n'roll soundtrack are accompanied by the barrage of quickfire images that have become the trademark of Guy Ritchie, the anti-John Woo. Hell, why slow-mo when you can convey an entire robbery, drug deal or sex scene in three well-chosen stills?

And, while Ritchie's slick vision of the London underworld, populated by diamond geezers and Cockney nightmares with daft monikers, may strain the credibility of even a middle class Edinburgh audience, there are some real gems buried in the clever backchat: a side-splitting getaway scene that rivals the handbrake moment in Bad Taste and a marvellous exchange when hardman One Two struggles to cope with the revelation that his best mate Handsome Bob (the lovely Tom Hardy) is gay.

The solid cast do wonders in bringing to life the unpleasant cavalcade of characters Ritchie has created, but therein lies the problem: all the characters are so unredeemingly cruel, cold, ruthless and self-centred that there's no-one with whom we really sympathise. And it's hard to find a climactic blood bath that exciting if you don't care who lives or dies.

So in answer to my question, yes, RocknRolla is a real diamond of a film – polished, brilliant and cold as stone. To combine a script this clever, sharp and funny and a plot as devious and complex with characters we can actually love – now that's Guy Ritchie's next challenge.

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