RevolverReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/07/07 01:12:12
In “Revolver,” his first film since directing wife Madonna in that ill-advised and fairly disastrous 2002 remake of “Swept Away,” writer-director Guy Ritchie tries to merge the ultra-flashy hipster crime film genre (one that he previously explored in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”) with the kind of head-scratching narrative structure found in such brilliant-yet-befuddling works as “Inland Empire,” “Southland Tales” and Francis Ford Coppola’s upcoming “Youth Without Youth.” Now as anyone who has read my reviews regularly no doubt knows by now, I have always had a soft spot for weirdo films that offer viewers a puzzle with too few pieces (or too many, depending on your point of view) and let them fit it all together on their own. I have also liked Ritchie’s past films (aside from “Swept Away,” of course) for their audaciousness and the dynamic energy that he brought to his material–they may have been unapologetic Tarantino knock-offs but as such things go, they were among the best of that otherwise sorry subgenre. However, these are two cinematic tastes that do not necessarily taste great together, as “Revolver” makes painfully clear. This is one of the most utterly bewildering films to come along in a long time and in this particular case, this is not a compliment. If you somehow manage to make it to the bitter end, you will no longer be asking yourself why the film has been sitting on a shelf since 2005–you will be asking how it managed to get so far along as to make it onto the shelf in the first without someone–a producer, an actor, a key grip–trying to stop it from proceeding in order to spare embarrassment all around.Ritchie regular Jason Statham stars as Jake Green, a high-stakes gambler who, as the film opens, is being released from prison after doing a seven-year stretch thanks to the machinations of local crime boss Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta). Having spent that time soaking up wisdom gleaned from textbooks and studies of game theory, Jake believes that he can beat Macha at his own game and on his first night out, he visits his adversary at his casino and cleans him out. Outraged, Macha orders a hit on Jake but it may not be necessary–after taking a fall down a flight of stairs, Jake is informed that he has a rare blood disease and will die within three days. At the same time, he is approached by two loan sharks, Zack (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (Andre Benjamin), who make him an offer that he can’t refuse–they will protect him from Macha’s men but in return, he has to work for them, do everything they say without question and give them all of his money to use for their operation. Mysteriously, Jake agrees to this plan and while giving away all of his money, he embarks on a series of tricks that places Macha into direct conflict with the fearsome and unseen gangland boss Mr. Gold.
This is about all I can say regarding the plot of “Revolver” for a couple of reasons. For one, this is one of those stories that continually yanks the rug out from under us with a series of surprise reveals that force us to reevaluate everything that we have been watching every ten minutes or so. For another, the storyline is so completely convoluted in its blend of oddball violence, heavy-handed philosophizing and allegedly colorful supporting characters (including a hitman stricken with pangs of conscience, Chinese gangsters and Francesca Annis as Mr. Gold’s representative) that I defy anyone–including Ritchie and Luc Besson (who is mysteriously credited with “adapting” Ritchie’s screenplay)–to explain what the hell is going on at any given point. Before long, it simply devolves into a never-ending series of scenes in which Statham offers the kind of profundities about the human condition that are normally rejected by the publishers of fortune cookie fillings, Liotta screams at the top of his lungs while clad in little more than a pair of Speedos and people that we barely know are shot to pieces for reasons that we can barely comprehend. Perhaps in order to distract us from the basic incoherence of the storyline, the film also throws in self-conscious stylistic flourishes like having scenes suddenly turn into animation for no apparent reason.
As I said before, I normally cherish films that defiantly break with the rules of traditional screen narrative. The difference between a film like “Revolver” and something like “Inland Empire” or “Youth Without Youth” is that while it may be impossible to explain what David Lynch and Francis Ford Coppola were trying to say in those particular efforts, they maintained a certain internal logic and while viewers may not have been able to fully grasp what was going on, you at least had the sense that their directors knew what they were going for and that if you paid close enough attention, it might eventually click for you as well at some point down the road. With “Revolver,” on the other hand, I never believed for a second that Guy Ritchie had any idea of what, if anything, he was trying to convey with all of his various tricks and twists. Instead, it feels as if he came up with an idea for another crime film, got bored with it halfway through and suddenly decided to throw in all this surreal and metaphysical nonsense in an effort to explain away its essentially disjointed nature. This is exceptionally aggravating when you finally realize that the basic philosophy of the film can pretty much be summed up in a few words–words which I won’t share in the event that you inexplicably choose to see it–that Ritchie seems unwilling or incapable of stating in plain English.It would be easy enough to write off “Revolver” as the kind of inexplicable folly that most talented filmmakers (and yes, I do fit Ritchie into that category) come up with at least once in their career. The only problem with that particular theory is that it was pretty much assumed by one and all that he had just that folly a few years ago with “Swept Away” but even that film seems more like a perfectly understandable misstep when compared to this disaster, which wastes some admittedly stylish photography and the commanding screen presences of Statham and Liotta on material not even worthy of their lighting doubles. With all of its philosophizing, “Revolver” clearly wants to be considered a thinking man’s crime film but it turns out to be anything but in the end. This may not be the single dumbest movie of the year but, to paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones in “No Country For Old Men” (a film as good as this one is bad), it will do until the dumbest one finally arrives.
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