It is easy to take a pop at Guy Ritchie. He constantly wears a smug expression, he is has done more than any other ex-public schoolboy to promote the Mockney accent, and he makes mediocre movies beloved by The Sun. On top of that he found massive success with his debut feature and don’t we Brits love nothing more than to build someone up only to gloat over their fall?
Sadly Ritchie’s latest effort Revolver, yet another crime caper involving gangsters, will do little to silence his critics. The premise is interesting. Ritchie aims to explore the notion that people can be seduced by their own greed through the concept of the con of all cons. He does this through the story of gambler and con man Jake Green (Jason Statham), who is looking to exact revenge upon Casino boss Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta), the man responsible for Jake’s seven-year stretch inside.
Jake becomes unbeatable at the tables using a formula he learnt from two mysterious fellow prisoners and when he visits Macha at his casino, his success humiliates the crook, who decides that he wants Jake dead. Shady duo Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (Andre Benjamin) offer to protect him – at a cost, of course – and he gets caught up in a web of mind games, violence and trickery. Typical of films of this ilk, the plot is multi-layered and it is sometimes difficult to keep tabs on who’s out to get who and why (although characters’ motives for blowing someone’s brains out are usually flimsy).
Ritchie is desperate to be taken seriously with Revolver. Chess imagery and ancient cliches as banal as “your enemy will always hide in the last place that you would ever look” or “you can only get smarter by playing a smarter opponent” seem straight from the Kaballah handbook. Instead of demonstrating Richie’s intellectual insight, they merely demonstrate his desperation to be taken seriously. Unfortunately for him, dressing the film up as something it isn’t only serves to expose how hollow it is.
It is nice to see Ritchie’s dark side but the film could benefit from a few laughs. Attempts at humour fall flat and are too cliched to raise even the mildest of titter. Ray Liotta parading around in leopard skin Speedos as the vain, flash Macha is as predictable as his pantomime villain acting is cringeworthy. Statham, however, holds his own as a leading man and Outkast’s Andre Benjamin makes a comfortable transition from rapper to actor. The most notable performance is that of Mark Strong, who excelled in BBC drama The Long Firm, in the minor role of steely assassin Sorter.
There are some visually stylish moments. A sequence, early on, in which Jake falls in slo-mo down stairs as classical music plays in the background is classy but an animation segment is contrived and merely cements Ritchie’s status as a poor man’s Tarantino. At times the film plays out like an overblown music video, which is of course were the director began, and the plot feels like it exists to showcase style rather than substance.
Ritchie’s modus operandi placed him in the vanguard of Cool Britannia, and as other icons of that era fall from grace, his trademark touches only remind us of a passing fad. The film adds nothing fresh to an already tired genre and plays out like watching EastEnders’ Mitchell brothers in a Tartantino rip-off. But let’s face it, Revolver could have been worse – it could have starred Madonna.