Guy Ritchie is a director of proven talent making his fourth film and returning to the genre he's best known for. That implies Revolver should be at the very least a confident piece of work. It's not. It's a mess, a confused, derivative mishmash. If you walked into it with no knowledge of who was behind the camera, you'd probably guess it had been made by a gifted but undisciplined film geek fresh out of university and obsessed with contemporary American cinema. From a seasoned director like Ritchie, it represents a shocking lapse.
It's the derivative nature of Revolver that's the biggest disappointment. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch were trendsetting films with a style all their own. Revolver is a potpourri of other people's work. It borrows liberally from Quentin Tarantino, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Bryan Singer, the Coen Brothers and David Lynch. The most obvious steals are from Tarantino, whose work in Kill Bill is visually quoted at least twice: a cool villainess flanked by smartly dressed female aides; an action scene seen partly in Japanese anime. If Tarantino helped inspire the visuals, the biggest influence on the script is David Lynch.
Here's the perfect point for a synopsis of the plot but in Revolver's case I don't know what to write. You probably already know that Jason Statham plays a gambler who gets on the wrong side of dangerous casino boss Ray Liotta. That describes the first few minutes. After that, the story gets seriously metaphysical. A couple of mysterious loan sharks played by The Sopranos' Vincent Pastore and Outkast singer André Benjamin are introduced. A great deal of backstory is filled in. An unseen, Keyser Soze-like ganglord is mentioned ominously. Reams of pretentious, mystical dialogue is spoken. The script goes off on tangent after tangent, takes twist after twist, shows us flashback after flashback and seems certain to be building up to a Big Revelation - the Mother of all Big Revelations. Except it isn't. All the metaphysical guff isn't setting us up for a punchline, it's merely metaphysical guff.
What everything is really leading up to is an ending of spectacular incoherence. How incoherent? At the screening I attended, the lights came up in the cinema immediately after the last shot and the audience remained seated, convinced that the film had broken and there must be more to come - there had to be some explanation surely! It eventually became apparent from the still-playing soundtrack that we were only missing the credits. Yet I - and I suspect most of the audience - left as frustrated as if the last reel had actually been missing.
I'm glad Guy Ritchie is moving on and not repeating Lock Stock ad nauseam but based on the evidence here, he should never again try to imitate David Lynch. Whatever Lynch's secret is, Ritchie isn't in on it. To be honest with you, I'm not a big fan of Lynch's more surreal, self-indulgent work. Twin Peaks lost me half way through the second series and Mulholland Drive lost me in the last half hour. Even at his most self-consciously bizarre however, Lynch always gives the impression that there's an overriding intelligence at work, that the strangeness has a point, that he knows what it's all about even if no one else does. Ritchie just seems to be doing "weird" for the sake of it, because he thinks it's clever. The results are exasperating.
Revolver isn't a total dead loss. There are flashes of genuine brilliance to remind us that Ritchie is a fine writer and director having an off day, not a hack churning out the same old rubbish. There are some impressive standalone scenes. An ambush in a restaurant is particularly well done: Ray Liotta is pinned under a table by his bodyguards, where he is faced with a not-quite-dead assassin determined to finish the job. It's the kind of thing Brian De Palma might have come up with. It's also irrelevent to the main storyline, as is Mark Strong's nerdy hitman Mr Sorter, who is a delight even if he does recall Steve Buscemi's Mr Shhh from Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead.
Unfortunately Strong is just about the only cast member to emerge with any credit. Jason Statham and Ray Liotta, highly capable actors, are both used here in ways that highlight their weaknesses. Statham's South London monotone can become, well, monotonous and Ritchie gives him pages of narration, pages of talking to himself, pages of arguing with himself. A very little of this goes a very long way. Liotta when unrestrained has a tendency to go over the top and Ritchie stands back and allows him to do his worst overacting since Turbulence.
I'm not one of Guy Ritchie's detractors. I've admired him since I was dragged kicking and screaming to see Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, a film I was only aware of as a vehicle for ex-football player Vinnie Jones, and I found it one of the most exciting movies of 1998. Snatch was even better. I haven't seen Swept Away, the alleged debacle starring Ritchie's wife Madonna but even if it's as bad as Revolver or worse, I'm not inclined to join in the Ritchie-bashing. I believe he'll be back sooner or later with a film that fulfills his early promise and Revolver will be dismissed as the embarassing misstep it is.