The question many people (well at least a few dozen or so) are probably asking themselves of Revolver is whether or not Guy Ritchie is back in cheeky-gangster form after the Swept Away debacle. After all, Revolver has been sitting on the shelf after its Toronto International Film Festival debut way back in September 2005. The answer is yes, there are gangsters and there is cheek (much of it belonging to Ray Liotta, more on that later) but here Ritchie is attempting no less than a full-on deconstruction of his first two films both structurally and thematically. Whether or not anyone will actually enjoy the film is another question entirely. It took some pretty big brass balls to self-finance something this ambitious at this point in his career. The movie does however, collapse under its own weight somewhere around the halfway point. Deconstruction is perhaps too big a goal for films as shallow as Ritchie’s. The man is most known as the best of the Quentin Tarantino rip-offs with an even bigger emphasis on style-over-substance.
Fresh off the Transporter 2 (at the time), Jason Statham is a bit more nuanced as Jake Green than Frank the Driver. He has switched to a pinstriped suit (which he is always wearing) and has a lot of hair on his head and a beard. He is the typical calm and collected type, a Statham specialty perfected in both Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. But in Revolver, Jake has more of an edge. He constantly doubts everything around him and is very much on edge internally and claustrophobic to boot. Jake was a low level thug who went to prison after his boss betrayed him. After a 7 year stint where he studied gaming theory and the art of the con from two anonymous inmates, he aspires to new heights in London’s gambling underworld. He is immediately successful upon his release from prison, amassing massive amounts of cash, and hurting his ex-employer by taking much of his money in a series of showy and audacious bets. It all goes to hell however, when he is blackmailed by two mysterious loan-sharks and forced (for incredibly convoluted reasons) to work for them. In the process, this starts a massive war between the British and the Chinese gangs in the city. Frank goes from issuing gaming lectures right out of John Dahl’s Rounders to questioning whether or not he is in fact the ‘sucker.’ This is one of the best strengths of the film.
Ray Liotta plays a reckless and unstable crime boss. If flying into red-faced rage while spitting on your underlings is the path to power, it is quite obvious how Liotta rose to where he is. But even Liotta is a small fish in the sea next to the mysterious Gold, a Kaiser Soze type who has an Edna Mode woman handle his business arrangements with the mid-level crime bosses. You know right off, that a live wire such as Liotta doesn’t stand a chance in the con-game, but Liotta chews up the role (and the scenery) with gusto and is a pleasure to watch, even if he often is wearing a skin-tight leopard skin speedo which wouldn’t look out of place on Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast.
Another stand out in the film is a sniper (Mark Strong looking like a cross between Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub) who experiences a change of heart in one crucial scene. What follows is Revolver‘s best sequence, not surprisingly, a highly stylized shoot out.
Revolver is a chess game within a chess game, within a chess game. At some point you may ask yourself whether or not it is actually worth trying to keep up with the film and just enjoy one implausible scene after another. Take for example the 3 day time-line the film sets out with. The wardrobe and exotic-location changes on the loan sharks alone would take a pretty serious level of co-ordination. Vincent Pastore and Andre 3000, both very comfortable with this material, are camping it up as much or more than anyone else here.
Part of the fun is to see just how far Ritchie is going to go after he has jumped the (loan) shark. One interesting thing to note is that Ritchie has also turned down the humour here, make no mistake there are laughs in the film, but things are not played as broadly as his previous gangster slapsticks.
Revolver shamelessly pilfers from David Mamet’s many con-game films, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club and P.T. Anderson’s Hard Eight. I kept being reminded of Donald Kaufman’s fake screenplay (“The 3”) in Adaptation for some reason. The operatic and ambiguous finale is bound to test the patience of any audience who have been trying to add the plot up to any sort of sum. Compared to something like Smokin’ Aces (itself some sort of DNA fusion between Tony Scott‘s Domino and Guy Ritchie‘s own Lock, Stock…) Revolver is watchable as a convoluted campy confection. It would make a wacko Liotta vs. Statham double bill with Uwe Boll‘s equally deluded and corny In the Name of The King. With this film as smugly superior as it is (or thinks it is) one wonders whether or not Ritchie was thinking to himself “Hail to the King, baby!” during the whole process of making this one.