Then there was the cast that began to be announced, and that seemed to go against everything that had gone before. He was gathering up a great cast for his latest film, and if you believed the press this was from a filmmaker that was on a big downward spiral.
Then there was the terrible Swept Away, a film that was put down to a lot the lead of Madonna, but I suspect there were more things to blame than just her. However that film resulted in the media saying that Guy Ritchie could do little more than the London gangster/geezer films, something that I tended to agree agree.
Let's say some good things about Ritchie's films though, Star and Revolver are two that stand out for me, and amazingly they are both hardly talked about. Revolver got a really poor deal, sure there are problems with it, but he's making his first big move away from the London gangster/geezer tag that he's been labelled with by the media – something which is slightly unfair since he only made two feature films.
Revolver was interesting, and I thought really interesting. There were threads that didn't work, that felt out of place and just didn't make sense, but there was also that main thread and that made the film hugely intriguing. After that film I suddenly realised that there was a lot more that Ritchie could bring to film, it also wiped away the embarrassment of Swept Away, even if it didn't do that well commercially.
There was also the short Star, which I think was pretty superb but overlooked because it was a short and an advertisement. Not only did it take a good humoured poke at Madonna, but it was pretty stylish too.
However all that excitement was out the window when I heard that he was making another London gangster/geezer film, RocknRolla, but then the cast announcements turned that around, and then the trailer came. Could Ritchie have pulled off something different?
The story behind RocknRolla is a little complicated, and as usual for a Guy Ritchie film there are multiple threads running at the same time. Lenny Cole, played by Tom Wilkinson, is the man who runs London, and right now he's into property. He's just about to clinch a huge deal with the new money in the city, a Russian crime lord, played by Karel Roden, who's buying up some big property and making some huge deals, football teams included.
Meanwhile a group called The Wild Bunch are just about to clinch a major deal for them, they're going to buy a piece of property that'll only rise in value and give them plenty of cash, the problem is that they can't get the money from the banks and it's only Lenny that can lend them that kind of money, and he does.
However at the same time he betrays them and grabs the property through his council contacts to make his own money, but still expects the Wild Bunch to pay him back with an additional fee.
Luckily a contact of theirs calls up to offer them the job. In the deal between the Russian and Lenny, seven million Euros is going to be picked up and transferred and the Russian's accountant is on the other end of the phone offering it on a plate to the Wild Bunch.
At the same time the Russian has lent Lenny his lucky painting, a painting that's now gone missing from his office and who knows has it. It's down to Archie, played by Mark Strong, to find the painting for him.
So the Russian wants his money and painting, and the planning permission that Lenny's deal will provide. Meanwhile Lenny wants the painting, revenge and his stepson, while the Wild Bunch are looking for another score.
Yes, it gets more complicated, but it's not to the detriment of the story.
Mark Strong's character narrates the story through a continual voiceover. Now that's often taken as a poor sign for a film, something that is used as a crux for a bad filmmaker or narrative, but actually it does work and gives a good narrative drive as well as a skewed and humorous view of events.
The setup of the film, which takes us to pretty much the end of the third paragraph of the plot description above, is quick, effective, and well done. Immediately you can see that Ritchie hasn't lost his sense of style in filmmaking, and the other big deal is that it doesn't feel like Snatch or Lock Stock.
These opening scenes were a surprise to watch with the audience, because through the opening half hour there was a fair amount of laughter, and in a cinema in Edinburgh I haven't really heard that too often apart from a mainstream comedy.
I was pleasantly surprised by the beginning and was quickly pulled into the story, and I found I was enjoying it too. This wasn't what I was expecting from a Guy Ritchie film. The gangsters and geezers are all there but they're toned down a hell of a lot, and there are other characters in there too, most notably played by Idris Elba and Gerard Butler, who give the film a wider appeal.
What I found most interesting is that there are two distinct sides to this film, there's the side I'll call Wild Bunch, which follows the main storyline, and the side that follows the RocknRolla, and the RocknRolla side is indeed the part of the film that feels so much like Snatch and Lock Stock, and it suffers for it.
This side of the film is confusing and overly introspective with arrogant London geezers giving their incessantly egotistical and rambling chat, and this is pure Ritchie, the part I really don't enjoy. There's one scene in particular which highlights this, and that's the cigarette packet speech.
Sure I can see what he's trying to say, and it's quite clever, but there's just no point and it feels like a big diversion in the story, in fact there's just no place for it in the film.
There's another scene like that, and surprisingly it involves the RocknRolla side of the story yet again, it's the pencil stabbing scene. Now I'm not a screaming idiot who thinks that everything bad in this world is caused by the television and cinema, but this scene just feels over the top and gratuitously violent. Especially when you consider other violent scenes in the film are much less so, such as the golf club scene where we see nothing of the violence, and to boot it doesn't seem to serve any dramatic purpose. In a way it seems to be there merely to connect with the spate of stabbings happening in England these days. Really, otherwise I have no idea why it's there.
Both these scenes slow the film down and divert it from the path it seems so happy to be on, and the path that the audience are more than happy for the film to be on.
One more negative thing before I turn to the other side of the film, the Wild Bunch side, and that's the RocknRolla character himself, played by Toby Kebbell. This character is pure Ritchie and really does grate. It just doesn't feel like there's a place for the character in the film until later on where he is the catalyst for the closing events, until then he's merely a place to hold onto the MacGuffin of the film.
Okay, enough of having a go at the film, because I have to say I don't agree with what the press are saying to date, the film is not a disaster, in fact it's one of his best films to date, and it's all down to that Wild Bunch side of the story.
This is the real strength of the film I feel, and from the very start it had the audience, particularly the scenes with Gerard Butler. Here he shows something new to his acting credentials, comic timing. The scenes with him and his team range from amusing to hilarious, scenes such as the first robbery, the jeep conversation with Handsome Bob, the continuing interrogation by Mumbles, and the excellent closing credits.
Actually there is another scene that sticks out in my head for Butler, and that's the chase sequence after the second robbery, it's also an excellent scene for Ritchie and his stylistic filmmaking.
The crash is a great setup, and although it's become a little bit of a norm for the surprise moment, this does catch you out. Then the continuing surprises throughout the chase kept the tension and the comedy going at the same time, and it just shows how well Gerard Butler has been used in the film.
I can't help but feel that this film would have been much stronger with less from the RocknRolla and more from the Wild Bunch. They were the interesting characters and had the more attractive storylines. As it was during the RocknRolla sections I felt I was drifting away from the film, and it was only during the Wild Bunch threads that I felt I was back in it.
This certainly had the effect of bringing down the Wild Bunch sections of the film that followed, and that's a shame, it also affected the conclusion. As the threads of the story came together I wished that I was as involved in the story as I was during the early part of the film as I'm sure I would have felt the impact of the film much better than I did.
The cinematography and editing throughout the film is really strong, I think much stronger than with Snatch and Lock Stock. Oh I know, some of you will be saying that I'm wrong, but I think there's a big difference between having lots of different camera styles and gimmick shots and using them effectively to tell a story without them taking over the film, and that's what Ritchie is doing here. I think he's managing to tone things down and use them to tell the story.
After watching this I do believe that Guy Ritchie is going to deliver something rather interesting for his upcoming films, and something that is going to be different to what we've seen before.
However this isn't Ritchie's film alone, there are some great characters and equally good performances. Gerard Butler is really good here, he shows he has great comic timing and appears pretty damn natural in front of the camera, and his performance does poke a bit of fun at his macho performances to date, and his character and his lines do it superbly. Honestly if you aren't cracking up at his encounters with Handsome Bob then I don't know what's wrong with you, and on that score, stay for the credits.
Tom Hardy is great as Handsome Bob, and Idris Elba's performance is good too, particularly his exchange with Butler's character which had me laughing, in fact that whole little story thread was superbly written and carried excellent timing, keeping you guessing to the closing credits.
The casting was really good for RocknRolla, and I was impressed at some of the performances, particularly the scenes with Butler, Elba and Hardy. Although the film is hampered by the darker RocknRolla storyline, the rest of the film plays well and shows that Guy Ritchie has moved on from London gangster/geezers and perhaps there actually is more to come and Sherlock Holmes won't end up looking like a period Snatch.
The film definitely doesn't deserve the hammering it's receiving critically. It's entertaining and funny, in fact in some places it's very funny. There's some great twists and surprises to be had and the journey there provides for some strong scenes with well scripted dialogue.
However that RocknRolla side to the film just didn't work so well for me and I found it detracted from what the rest of the film was trying to do, and for Ritchie that was a step forward from his previous work, and for the audience it was the entertaining, plot and character rich side to the film. If only this had been reworked or re-edited then I would have been saying much better things about this film.
Definitely worth seeing though, first up because it's British, but mainly just for the whole Wild Bunch storyline, and Butler playing the comedy.