Film Friday: ‘RocknRolla’ & ‘Body of Lies’

by W. Andrew Powell


Gerard Butler in RocknRolla

Get ready for guns, thugs, and special agents this week, as two big movies try to duke it out for Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend. On the one hand, Guy Ritchie‘s RocknRolla brings the director back to form, while director Ridley Scott debuts the CIA thriller, Body of Lies. Also opening this week is the family film, City of Ember; the sports drama, The Express; and to get you in the mood for Halloween there’s the horror film, Quarantine.

Guy Ritchie has a lot to prove. After the dual disasters of Revolver, and most horrifically, Swept Away, it was pretty safe to say that most people had written Mr. Madonna off as a one-trick pony. And they’re probably not far off since RocknRolla seems to be another rehashing of Ritchie’s favorite subjects: tough criminals, guns, and the all important heist.

The great Tom Wilkinson stars as London crime boss Lenny Cole, who gets involved in a big deal with Russian mobster Uri, played by Karel Roden. When the money goes missing though, with Uri’s “lucky painting,” Lenny has to fix things quickly, or die trying.

Capturing a lot of the same comic edge and rapid-fire edits that made Snatch a hit, RocknRolla is a return to form for Ritchie, and has the cast to back that up. Thandie Newton stars as Uri’s hot accountant, Stella; Gerard Butler is the wry crook, One Two; and Jeremy Piven plays wise-cracking Mickey alongside Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Roman.

Fans of Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels can look forward to more classic Ritchie violence and humour in RocknRolla. It’s hard to say right now if the film will have the success of Snatch, but critics have been giving the film some credit.

“If it’s adrenaline, over-the-top violence and cheeky gangsters you’re after,” Alonso Duralde write for MSNBC, “RocknRolla definitely delivers. But don’t be shocked if you find yourself wanting some aspirins and a cold compress once it’s all over…”

Oddly enough, Ritchie fans will get a break from his usual antics in 2009 with his next film, a Sherlock Holmes adaptation starring Robert Downey Jr. as the one and only Mr. Holmes.

Body of Lies
While director Ridley Scott doesn’t suffer from the same repetitive malaise that Guy Ritchie seems to have, Scott does seem to be back in familiar territory with his new film, Body of Lies.

For one thing, the film is another signature Scott picture with the kind of grit, and violent ultra-realism that he has become known for, especially in films like Black Hawk Down, or even American Gangster for that matter.

The other commonality for Scott is star Russell Crowe, who plays CIA boss Ed Hoffman in the film. This marks the fourth production that Crowe and Scott have worked together on, and three of those films were made since 2006.

With Leonardo DiCaprio playing Roger Ferris, a CIA operative working to uncover a terrorist leader, the story crosses the world as Ferris attempts to get support from Hoffman. At the same time, Ferris will have to decide how much he can trust Hoffman as events go sour in Jordan.

Critics have been fairly impressed with Scott’s latest film, giving the film above average reviews.

“Smart and tightly drawn; it has a throat-gripping urgency and some serious insights,” David Denby wrote in his review for the New Yorker, “and Scott has a greater command of space and a more explicit way with violence than most thriller directors.”

City of Ember
My least favorite production company is back with another dopey kids story, wrapped in as much fake computer graphics as they could muster.

Walden Media, who also made the two Chronicles of Narnia movies, among many other graphics-heavy films, put some sparkle on for their latest film about an underground city populated by humans who have apparently been hidden away for 200 years. The generators that power the city are beginning to die though, and two children may be the only ones who can help restore their city, and save the people.

The film stars Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan as the young friends, Doon and Lina, with Tim Robbins playing Doon’s father and Bill Murray as Ember’s Mayor.

While I can’t help shake the images of countless other films and stories, and even games, that have had similar stories, there are a few good reviews floating around out there. Jette Kernion of Cinematical called it “one of the most gorgeous-looking films” of the year, and despite a few failings, recommended it for family-friendly viewing.

Considering Walden’s track record, producing films that I may not like but many families obviously do, this is a safe bet this long weekend for parents looking for a way to amuse the kids and get out of the house.

The Express
Taking the real-life story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American football player to win the Heisman trophy, Rob Brown stars alongside Dennis Quaid, who plays Syracuse Orangemen coach Ben Schwartzwalder.

With above-average reviews coming in this week, it’s somewhat safe to say that The Express may actually be a decent sports drama for a change. “The Express finesses a cinematic hat trick: It’s entertaining, deeply moving and genuinely important,” Ann Hornaday wrote for the Washington Post. And as Randy Cordova of the Arizona Republic ponders in his column, “It’s such a naturally compelling tale that one wonders why it hasn’t been filmed before.”

And finally, Jennifer Carpenter stars in the horror film, Quarantine. She plays television reporter Angela Vidal, sent with her cameraman to spend a night with the Los Angeles Fire Department. A routine call turns bloody however when an outbreak of a rare form of rabies has people murdering each other, and Angela is trapped inside as the government locks down the building to contain the mess.

Since there appear to be no early reviews, I have very little to go on here, but the ridiculous trailers suggest a film best left to bored teenagers with nothing better to do than watch bad movies.

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