The opening scene of RocknRolla, the latest filmic outing by Guy Ritchie, pilloried ‘mockney’ film director and erstwhile ‘Mr Madonna’ (he and the Material Girl have, after many months of rumours, finally parted company), shares an unfortunate and, one must only imagine, entirely accidental parallel with its creator’s career.
As Ritchie’s camera pans over London, the narrated voiceover begins eulogising on the English capital’s building boom. But as he sings the praises of bricks and mortar as a ‘no-lose’ investment something starts to jar. In the time since Ritchie conceived, wrote and produced RocknRolla, London has been hit by the worst economic crisis in decades, killing the city’s property market stone dead.
In a microcosm of London’s current woes, Ritchie’s career was once – albeit briefly – predicted to be bullet-proof. As the creative force behind 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the director launched a new wave of cheeky-chappie crime thrillers that had critics waxing nostalgically to a golden era of lovable working-class rogues. Ritchie’s trademark style – sharply cut, slow- to fast-mo editing matched by equally athletic jumps across characters and plots – became the blueprint upon which a string of pre- and post-millennial movies and TV shows were based. East London’s low-rent criminal fraternity hadn’t been this popular since Oliver Twist.
But such an outré filmic style was bound to offer diminishing returns. Lock, Stock may have garnered enough cachet to entice Brad Pitt to star in its 2000 follow-up, Snatch, but the rot (or at least the familiarity) was already beginning to set in. His much publicised relationship with and subsequent marriage to Madonna in Scotland’s Skibo Castle that same year might have shifted focus on Ritchie away from his filmmaking, but the filmic fallout of their union became quickly apparent.
Swept Away, the hilariously disastrous desert island ‘fantasy’ that was supposed to be a star vehicle for his new missus was so bad that it failed to get a cinema release. Similarly, 2005’s Revolver was lambasted for its confusing Kabbalah-laden plot (Madge had famously joined the religious sect and this film was a vehicle – more akin to a car crash – to spread the word).
Perhaps Ritchie should have taken some lessons from former partner Matthew Vaughn, who followed up his own directorial debut, Layer Cake – a take on, quelle suprise, the modern British crime drama – with the Hollywood-studded fantasy, Stardust. While not entirely successful, its thoroughly ambitious scope, string of A-listers and quirky cameos (Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert de Niro, Ricky Gervais) means that Vaughn continues to intrigue, rather than exhaust his audience, sidestepping the danger of becoming too niche.
RocknRolla, meanwhile, revisits the well-trodden tale of unlikely small-time London crooks that first made its creator so famous. But in doing so it remains as behind the times with current movie trends as its opening sequence is with the global economy.
Possibly having finally learned this lesson, Ritchie’s next film is a reworking of that historical classic, Sherlock Holmes. Currently in production it offers the director the chance to finally step outside his genre and try out something new (Swept Away notwithstanding). Just so long as rumours about Holmes-led ultra-violence remain just that, we retain enough affection for Ritchie’s daft ways that our fingers remain determinedly crossed that he might just pull it off.
The curse of Madonna?
Madge and Guy were famously match-made over the dinner table at Sting and film producer wife Trudi Styler’s house. But it wasn’t the first time aspiring actress Madonna had led a talented film industry man astray as we reveal.
Pop’s biggest strumpet and Hollywood’s angriest young man met, fell in love, and wed on an LA clifftop as a hail of helicopters hung overhead. The marriage ended four years later in 1989 amid tales of domestic abuse, culminating in a tale of Madonna left in their mansion, tied to a chair. Could it have been payback by Penn for the Material Girl making him star with her in the gloriously ill conceived ‘period romance’ Shanghai Surprise?
This legendary lothario had a reputation for the ladies that remained undiminished over three decades – until Madge came along. Shown very much to be Madonna’s bitch in on-the-road rockumentry, Truth Or Dare (Question [with Beatty in the background]: ‘Who’s the love of your life?’ Answer: ‘Sean.’ Ouch!), Beatty followed their relationship by almost immediately settling down with actress Annette Bening. An ability to make one of the world’s most famous roués rebound into monogamy? Madonna, we salute you.
Nothing quite says love like destroying a man’s career. Far be it for us to state that’s what actually happened, but Ritchie’s ‘vehicle’ for his new wife, the awesomely bad Swept Away, appeared to almost single-handedly to do just that. As we go to press, they have just been granted the first stage of their divorce citing Guy’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as just cause. A case of the pot calling the kettle well and truly black.
RocknRolla is in cinemas now