I don’t even know where to start. I am constantly editing my thoughts on this film as there is probably not enough space to discuss it. The question is, how did Guy Ritchie end up making this film? And what went wrong?
Revolver, as a title, doesn’t seem to refer to anything in the film, except perhaps how much Ritchie wants to put you in a spin with such a deliberately confusing film. Having made two films that were enjoyed by critics and the public alike (and myself), he made the disaster that was Swept Away, which just allowed people to get the knives out and have a go. Presumably, Guy is in a state; where does his career go now? He can’t keep on making the same film but he has to return to safer ground to keep his career moving. However, he doesn’t want to repeat himself. He has to do something grander to be seen as an artist, as well as a purveyor of enjoyable cinema. Hence, Revolver.
In Revolver, I think Ritchie has tried to make an existential gangster film. And failed. This is not his crime. Where he has gone wrong is making a film people can’t enjoy on any level. Some unspecified length into the film (I can’t really tell; it feels so much longer than it is because it is so bad, that time seems to lose all meaning), there is another one of the interminable and repetitive black screens with one of the mottoes that are reiterated throughout the film, something Ritchie believes makes his film have more weight. There is no music and the screen fades to black. I then heard a soft snoring noise. I would have sworn that someone behind me had fallen asleep and I wouldn’t have blamed them.
I’ll try to synopsise the film even though it doesn’t want to be. Jason Statham is Jake Green, who has done 7 years solitary confinement for not grassing out the ‘Mr. Big’ (in this case, Mr Dorothy Macha, played by Ray Liotta). He has come out of prison with a desire to gain revenge on Macha but also with a formula for winning cons, developed by the prisoners on either side of his cell, one a master chess player, the other a master con-man. After humiliating Macha into the loss of a large amount of money at his casino on the basis of the toss of a card chip, Macha orders him killed. However, he is rescued by two loan sharks, played by Vincent Pastore and Andre Benjamin, who then state they will protect him in return for all the vast amount of money that he has earned with the formula in the two years since his release. Then, to complicate matters further, these two, seemingly all-knowing loan sharks, steal from Macha as he is doing business with the ultimate ‘Mr. Big’, Mr. Gold, meaning he has to do business with the competition, only for the loan sharks to steal from both of them at the same time, escalating the problems. All the while, they are ordering around Jake Green and having bizarre conversations with him concerning the Rules of the Game, which are stated at the beginning of the film, repeated in dialogue throughout the film, as well as flashed up on the screen and presumably important moments, in case you had forgotten them or lost the will to live.
Reading other critics, I get the feeling that some were annoyed because they didn’t get the film. I didn’t have that feeling, as hopefully my attempted synopsis indicates, but I was annoyed by the feeling that I wasted two hours of my life. Bearing in mind, I saw this film for free with an other ticket from the Evening Standard. The film is slow and dull a lot of the time, as Ritchie believes this will make him more serious than his previous tricksy cutting. There is very little humour to relieve the starched feel to the story and characters. Obviously offended that people thought he could only do pop videos, Ritchie doesn’t use the perfectly appropriate tracks to score this film as before but uses a lot of classical music because he thinks it makes it more serious. Only it makes everything quite leaden.
This film isn’t a contender for the worst film of all time because, although it is rubbish, not everything about it is crap. Ritchie does know how to make a glossy visual when he wants to. For example, there is a good scene where the oddball, balding, bespectacled assassin (played by Mark Strong) is walking through the old building, hunting down the gang out to kill him, that is put together expertly. The acting isn’t appalling either. Andre acquits himself well, if not anything special, and Statham plays himself, although he does do well in the core scene in the elevator near the end that is at the crux of what Ritchie thinks the film is about, but mostly makes people want to snigger at its unintended silliness. Ray Liotta is on form but will probably look back on this and regret it, especially when Ritchie has him standing around in leopard skin briefs, in normal lighting and ultraviolet (for topping up the tan).
What is a mess (and made the viewing audience dislike it so intensely) is the story itself. There is a fine line between telling enough of a story for the audience to think for themselves and deliberate obscurity masquerading as intelligent storytelling. It seems that Ritchie had been watching The Usual Suspects, House of Games and his old films and then decided to write this one based on them but decided to leave out some essentials, like a point for the film in the first place. Not only are you left wondering what it was all for (the film ends rather abruptly, fading to black and some music, with no credits, as if everyone involved was embarrassed by the preceding two hours and only the cinema turning on their house lights to let you know that the torture was over) but you also feel cheated of an entertaining cinematic experience, which is the worse offence. Where Ritchie goes from now is anybody’s guess but I hope he stops going round in circles, which is perhaps where the film title comes from in the first place.