Thursday, March 11, 2010

Film Focus: Revolver

Another of my reviews for Film Focus. This one got quoted all over the place at the time - perhaps cos unlike so many of my peers I sat through to the end, or cos it's a fine old bit of ranting. And note that all the things I didn't like about Revolver do not apply to Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes - I like to think he was listening.

Revolver
Reviewed 19 September 2005

Cast: Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore, Andre Benjamin
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Guy Ritchie
UK Release: 22 September 2005. Certificate: 15. Runtime: 115 mins.

[In brief]
Jake Green (Statham) has learnt a few tricks while he’s been in prison. In fact, nobody can beat him at the games he plays. Which is bad news for gangster Dorothy Macha (Liotta), who’s the reason Green went to jail in the first place…

[In full]
Tedious, humourless, pretentious and nasty, Revolver is not the hoped-for return to form from the writer-director of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). It’s not just that the film lacks the lightness-of-touch and black comedy of its predecessors – this is clearly meant to be a grittier, more serious sort of film. What really lets it down is that it’s nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is.

The film is ostensibly about game-playing, and the psychology of the big con. It opens with portentous quotations from a chess manual, a banking text book and Machiavelli. These suggest there’s some great combat of wills to come, rather than Ritchie’s trademark fast-cutting, soundtrack-led shoot-‘em-ups. Guess which we actually get? Even though the same lofty quotations reappear through the film, as if we’re making some kind of philosophical progress, this is a film that’s all style and no substance.

The camera work is eye-poppingly opulent, but feels more self-indulgent than clever. When Green (for no very good reason) tumbles headlong down some stairs, we’re treated to a slow-motion pan, looking down on him. Yeah, it’s kind of pretty, but, er… why? Likewise, there’s a bit when he’s suddenly hit by a car, smashing through the windscreen to land dead in the back seat. It’s a shocking, audacious moment – one of the few times the film makes you sit up and take notice.

And then we rewind, in (you guessed it) slow motion. Green unsmashes his way back through the windscreen, is unhit by the car, and then – time playing forwards now – he gets a call on his mobile, which just stops him walking out in front of the car. It’s a tortuously long sequence all in all, and to tell us what? That Green’s too stupid to look where he’s going; that whoever it is calling on the phone is magic; that the writer-director is pissing about.

There’s more, like the cartoons on the telly matching what’s actually happening in the hotel room, or subtitles that pop up in different places round the screen. These flourishes only distract us from the story, rather than adding to it. For a film where the lead character fights with himself, it’s ironic that the director seems embarrassed by the writer.

Statham makes for a dull lead, though that’s hardly the actor’s fault. A pivotal scene in a lift, with him coming unhinged, ranting and boggle-eyed, is a glimpse at a much more exciting performance and film. As it is, he plods around moodily, his growling narration a litany of clich├ęs. Liotta is similarly a one-note thug, a comedy grotesque played, for some reason, straight. Goofing about in unflattering states of undress, or pinned right in the line of fire by the men trying to protect him, he just seems pathetic. Which means Green turning out not to be scared of him doesn’t really work as a revelation.

There’s really only one character who elicits our sympathies. Mark Strong perfectly plays “Sorter”, the brilliant, cold, nerdy assassin whose crisis of conscience is more gripping and emotionally charged than Green’s kidnapped niece with a gun to her head.

Revolver wants desperately to convince us of its own cleverness, without ever showing us proof that it’s smart. The plot contrives miracles and coincidence to suggest there’s something deeper going on behind the free-wheeling mess onscreen. The ending offers some kind of resolution to the game Green was playing all along, but we’re long past caring, and there’s still so much left unanswered.

Was it all a dream? Was it all inside Green’s head? Why didn’t I just get up in the middle and leave, like the girl right in front of me?

1 comment:

Le Mc said...

Okay, won't be renting that one in a hurry!