Blu-ray Disc Review
Studio: Warner Bros.
Film Year: 2008
Film Length: 114 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Video Codec: VC-1
Disc Size: BD-50
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese
Film Rating: R
Release Date: January 27, 2009.
Starring: Gerard Butler (One-Two), Tom Wilkinson (Lenny Cole), Mark Strong (Archie), Toby Kebbell (Johnny Quid), Thandie Newton (Stella), Dragan Micanovic (Victor)
Written by: Guy Ritchie
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Warner Bros. brings Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla to BD day-and-date with the DVD release. Home Theater Forum reviewer Ken McAlinden’s DVD Review sang high praise of the title, and this BD is no slouch either.
HTF DVD Reviewer Ken McAlinden writes: RocknRolla is a twisty comic and violent story of colorful characters at various levels of the London criminal food chain ripping each other off both purposely and unwittingly. As the film opens, Lenny Cole (Wilkinson) feels secure at the top of that food chain as he peddles his influence with key public officials to enrich or ruin those wanting to do business in the city. He uses this influence to double deal a group of small time criminals casually known as "The Wild Bunch", landing them heavily in debt to him. When a Russian billionaire named Victor (Micanovic) enlists Lenny's aid to bribe away the red tape for a massive real estate development, Lenny finds himself in over his head. Victor's accountant, Stella (Newton) secretly tips off Wild Bunch crew One-Two (Butler), Mumbles (Idris Elba), and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) to the location of the money transfer, and they steal it before it can be delivered to Lenny, not realizing (or caring) that they are stealing from the man they are desperate to pay back. Matters are further complicated when Victor's "lucky painting" bestowed on Lenny as a token of good will is stolen by Johnny Quid (Kebbell), Lenny's junkie rock star step-son who is holed up watching his record sales skyrocket after faking his own death. Lenny and his right hand man, Archie (Strong), put the squeeze on Johnny's management team to find the not-dead rock star before Victor realizes the painting is missing. Little goes as planned and the chaos only increase when "automatic weapons with war criminals attached to them" and a criminal informer are introduced to the mix.
After a few diversions over the past eight years, Guy Ritchie returns to the London crime genre that made his reputation with RocknRolla. As with his previous films in the genre, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, RocknRolla has a twisty plot filled with picaresque British gangsters with varying but always incomplete knowledge of what is going on around them. While there is still plenty of fun to be had, the film feels a bit overwritten with far too many characters and uninspired plot contrivances for the amount of story it is intended to carry.
That being said, on a scene by scene basis, the movie can be an absolute blast, and on balance, there are more elements of the film that work than do not. A bald pated Tom Wilkinson chews any and all available scenery as the ruthless blowhard Lenny who is more fun to watch the more frustrated and angry he becomes. Mark Strong anchors the film with just the right combination of competence and deference as Lenny's point man, Archie. Almost any scene involving any combination of Newton, Butler, Elba, and Hardy is great fun, as they all have an amusing rapport that is equal parts writing and performance. Dragan Micanovic provides a great antagonist, as the increasingly irked Russian billionaire with the dangerous combination of limited patience and limitless resources.
In terms of individual sequences, without getting too spoilery [sic], there is a robbery-chase scene in the middle of the film that is worth the price of admission by itself. It borders on Coen Brothers-style lunacy, stopping short just enough to remain grounded in the world of the film. I especially enjoyed how the fact that people would actually begin to get tired during a foot chase, which is almost always ignored in conventional action movies, is exploited.
On the weak side of the ledger from both a plot and character standpoint is almost everything having to do with the purloined painting and Johnny Quid. The painting is a fairly weak MacGuffin, the importance of which and the passing off of which are handled a bit too casually. I am not asking for a Pulp Fiction style Christopher Walken gold watch monologue, but it does need to be "sold" a little harder in order for the ensuing drama to feel earned. The subplot also seems like a weak excuse to include the characters played by Jeremy Piven and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, who serve little purpose other than to show how Lenny can intimidate a person, which is already established earlier with other characters. The Johnny Quid character figures importantly into the film's conclusion, but too many of his scenes prior to that feature tiresome junkie philosopher monologues that stop the film in its tracks. I do not fault Kebbell who plays Quid about as well as anyone could hope. The problem seems to be a case of writer-director Ritchie falling too much in love with his own words to be editorially ruthless.
VIDEO QUALITY: 5/5
Shot exclusively in HD, the image is robust on HD Blu-ray. I can describe the image as milky, but in a good way, as all detail is excellent when comparing it to other HD productions. Image depth is fantastic and smaller details don’t get blurred out in this rather polished looking piece. The image is glazed over with a cast of sepia but doesn’t detract from other colours coming through. While the warmth of the golf greens three-quarters into the film doesn’t exactly take me back to the greens I remember, it is the intended look of the film that isn’t altered too obtrusively. All else in the image looks fine. The image is free of source video noise, edge enhancement, and compression artefacts. All subtitles appear in the 2.35:1 safe area for those with WICH (wide-image constant height) setups.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4/5
The 5.1 sound design is nice, but not exemplary. If you can get past the heavy accents, dialogue is distinguishable, and sound effects and music are rock solid and play back well. The sound is a bit dry even without re-EQ, which is a nice break from the aggressiveness of many frequencies in so many other soundtracks I hear. I would characterize it as being “comfortable” on the ears. The front sound stage is wide but lacks the depth I was hoping to hear; sound is more pin point to each speaker location. Surrounds are activated once in a while for the moments that call for it, usually during the action sequences, but the rest of the soundtrack remained quiet despite some creative opportunities in the dialogue scenes. The soundtrack defaults to lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 so don’t forget to go into the audio menu first or toggle the audio button to use the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Since I’m used to listening to Fox titles with DTS-HDMA, this Dolby True HD soundtrack is lower in level so more gain must be used to bring it up to the same reference.
TACTILE FUN!!: 1/5
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
Not much bass shaking happening here. You won’t miss it if it’s turned off.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2/5
HTF DVD Reviewer Ken McAlinden writes: A commentary by Director Guy Ritchie and actor Mark Strong spans the length of the film, and presents a casual, sporadically informative listen. Strong tends to err on the side of over praising things, and Ritchie has a bad habit of quoting his own dialog. Aside from that, they do manage to keep the conversation going with only one significant gap, which they are men enough to apologize for when it occurs. Some of the more entertaining comments include a revelation about why Tom Wilkinson is bald in the film, discussions of the much reported nasty infection Gerard Butler suffered during filming and how it was accommodated, Ritchie's introduction during production to a whole new type of magazine by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, and Ritchie's brief but amusing discussion of what it is like to be a bad dancer whose spouse constantly travels surround by ten or more professionals. I found it interesting that the commentary was recorded post "global economic meltdown" which gives it a unique perspective versus the featurette, which was made during the massive London real estate boom that inspired the movie's plot and setting.
Blokes, Birds and Backhanders - Inside RocknRolla - is a twenty minute HD featurette looking into the sleazy and touch characters of the film.
Guy's Town (HD, 8:33) is a featurette focusing on the development boom in contemporary London that inspired the film and the locations chosen to reflect it. On camera interview participants include Guy Ritchie, Producer Steve Clark-Hall, Cinematographer David Higgs, Actor Mark Strong, Location Manager Clare Tovey, Actress Thandie Newton, Actor Tom Wilkinson, Actor Gerard Butler, and Production Designer Richard Bridgland.
Deleted Scene: Will You Put the Cigarette Out? (16:9, SD, 2:00) consists of a discussion between One Two, Mumbles, and Handsome Bob while One Two tries to exercise on a treadmill. This was going to be used to establish that One-Two was a jogger in the chase scene later in the film, but it was rightly deemed expendable. It’s not entirely finished as dialogue insertions can be heard.
Finally, a Digital Copy of the film is available via a dedicated second disc. This copy is compatible with both Windows and Apple flavored operating systems and media players.
IN THE END...
The BD provides solid video, lossless audio, and some featurettes in HD. I still call on WB to have their BDs default to the TrueHD audio option first. I can only imagine the amount of people out there thinking they are listening to lossless audio when they aren’t. Not everyone knows to check in these menus. The movie is entertaining and would make a great rental. But I believe it’s just one of those enjoyable movies that will find its way into the personal video collection somehow.
January 31, 2009.