Seven years in solitary might have broken a lesser man but ex-con Jake Green (Jason Statham) spent his time sandwiched between cells containing a chess grand master and a genius con artist. As he emerges from prison, he becomes a rich man - in his own words, "I am now very fuckin' rich!" - and begins taking revenge on the man who ordered the killing of his sister-in-law, casino owner Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta). Leaving Macha humiliated, Green emerges from the casino, stopping to accept a note from a man just stepped out of the shadows, which tells him to take the stairs. Green does so but then passes out, hearing from his doctor that he has a rare blood disorder and that he only has three days left to live.
A second opinion agrees with the first but Green will be lucky to survive the next seventy-two hours with Sorter (Mark Strong), Macha's favoured hitman agreeing to take him out. Then Green finds another note from the stranger from the casino, which saves his life but who Green finds has a deal of his own. Unsure what to make of this man and his partner, who identify themselves as Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (Andre Benjamin) - part loan-sharks, part guardian angels - he still goes along with them but finds that he's now involved in a game with much higher stakes than merely gambling, which will see Green and Macha as mere playthings of the mysterious Sam Gold...
It's worth saying that, in a film as cryptic as this, there are a fair number of spoilers ahead. Spoiler tags will be used around the most sensitive piece of text but should you wish to avoid any spoilers, click here to take you to the next section.
From two Brit-gangland movies through a celebrity marriage and a film so poorly thought of that, in more enlightened times, the negatives would have fuelled the fire on which Mr and Mrs Madonna would have sat, Guy Ritchie has fallen so fast that it ought to have brought on a nosebleed. Even before this DVD release, Revolver has been lambasted in the media, with opinions on it ranging between an outright disaster to a terrible mistake. Believe one, believe the other...either way Revolver has still been dismissed as a dreadful film that mixes Ritchie's past glories with a dollop of Lynchean oddness but it's not without its pleasures.
Indeed, as the first hour passes, you may find yourself, as this reviewer did, thinking that it's not really so bad. The direction, editing and camerawork are typically extravagant, the acting, as it did in Lock, Stock... and Snatch, remains an almost secondary concern, whilst Ritchie, as in those films, presents a place alongside our own convincingly, complete with $12 bills, an identikit series of vehicles and regulation black suits and a common tongue that's not a Blade Runner-ish mish-mash but somewhere that cockneys, northern killers and southern states rappers understand one another. At the film's heart is a tale of revenge, with Statham's Jake Green out for Ray Liotta's Dorothy Macha, with Ritchie deliberately leaving two years blank before opening his film with Macha nervously pacing the doors of his casino with French Paul (Terence Maynard) awaiting Green's arrival. This signifies some bad blood between them but as there is no immediate flashback, Revolver either suggests that it's unimportant or that it, and we, must wait.
From there, and following Green's humiliation of Macha at a table in his casino, Zach appears twice in Green's life, once to shake his hand and to pass him a note advising him to take the elevator and another to rescue him from Macha's hitmen. He and Avi then take Green under their wing somewhat, telling him that they've seen his medical notes and that he will die in three days but that they can protect him during that time but that it will cost him - he and his money will be theirs, after which he will die from the blood disorder that is killing him. By introducing Zach and Avi, Ritchie takes a two-handed revenge drama and introduces a third party, whose origins are confused. Via a way with knowing things that no one could possibly know - Green's medical records, his history and that Macha's men are waiting for him at his home, Zach and Avi may either be real or not; that they're unknown and untouchable suggests the latter but their habit of turning to violence suggests they have at least one foot in this world.
Ritchie's first mistake is not then knowing quite when to stop - after Zach and Avi, he welcomes Lord John into his film, then Sorter, who works for Macha but also appears to have his own agenda, before finally introducing Sam Gold, a Keyser Soze/Louis Cypher character who may or not exist at all. These parties then dance about one another forming alliances, then not, before Ritchie and his scriptwriters attempt to drag the thing towards some kind of resolution. Add innumerable flashbacks and differing interpretations of events into the film, as well as the philosophical conversations that Green and Avi have over a chessboard, and Revolver is something of a mess. It strives for the delicate centrepoint between mystery and incomprehension of a David Lynch film but appears clod-footed in comparison. If Revolver hadn't lost you already, you'd certainly be tempted to walk away during the five minutes in which Jake Green faces down his own ego in a lift within Macha's apartment, something which shows as much of an understanding of Freud's theory of psychoanalysis as a Christmas cracker.
And so it comes to an interpretation of the film...
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which centres on whether or not Zach and Avi, as well as Sam Gold, exist only in Green's mind or in what passes for real life in Revolver's universe. The crux of the plot appears to be that Avi and Zach want to put both Lord John and Dorothy Macha's gangs out of business without appearing to be involved. They set do this via the theft of Macha's safe, which contained the cocaine that was destined for Sam Gold. This one act appears to be the catalyst for Macha and Lord John turning on one another, being victims of the ultimate con that, as Green learned whilst on the inside, was both too old and too obvious to believe anyone falling for it, but fall for it they did.
Put some thought into it and Revolver is not that opaque a film, though, more that it's not a very good one. It compares to The Usual Suspects and Angel Heart but it's really David Lynch that it aims for, whereupon it's most found wanting. Lynch is often difficult but that's more in audiences looking to understand him, whereas one can't help but think that his more Lynchean moments are sometimes only there because they only sounded or look like a good idea, such as the Other Place in Twin Peaks or Dean Stockwell's singing of In Dreams in Blue Velvet. However, Lynch also has a habit on delivering on weirdness where others don't - television show Lost will, I assume, ultimately be a failure as it will eventually pull back from the head-staggering strangeness that Lynch would, like Twin Peaks, have invested in it. Guy Ritchie, though, has no history of such staggering leaps in his stories and appears to feel the need to explain everything, to not leave Revolver open-ended. He may end the film without credits and with only a blank screen but he does resolve his film, it's just that he doesn't do it very well.
Revolver is not, though, without interest and if Ritchie is clever - and, being honest, there's little evidence of it here - he'll bring Mark Strong's Sorter back in another story. There are three scenes here that stand out, all of which involve Sorter - his shooting of the waitress, his attack on Lord John via CCTV and his saving of Green's niece - and they're reason enough to want to see more of him. With a blob of swept-back hair on his forehead, his trenchcoat and his National Health glasses, cool is not the right word for Sorter, more that he's confident in his role and Strong, who comes to this after his superb turn in The Long Firm, makes the most of him.
There's some pleasure to be had in knowing that Mrs Ritchie doesn't make an appearance in Revolver but, otherwise, there's slim pickings. As, indeed, there is in the film's logic but showing that he still has sufficient style to make it as a filmmaker, Guy Ritchie is not out just yet.
Revolver may not be Guy Ritchie's best film but it's easily the best looking of his films with the rich colours, the crisp, clear image and a sure-footed sense of style that belies the film's rather patchy financing. For a Region 2 release, which never seem to be the equal of Region 1, it's very good with a picture that will look good even on a bigger television.
The disc comes with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks, the second of which is a noticeable improvement on the first, with both the dialogue and scenes sounding clear and uncluttered. As with the picture, Ritchie has a way with his soundtrack, using it to frame the action as he shifts focus. The third shootout with Sorter is a particular highlight as Ritchie slips his camera about a flat fading in and out on the killer as, one-by-one, he removes any threats over three floors and between rooms.
Commentary: Ever play that game with a child whereby you hold out something they want only to snatch it away as their fingers take a hold of it? Ritchie's commentary is like that - just when you think he might give something away, he begins to, I would imagine, squirm in his seat and to steer his conversation away from actually revealing anything of his film. Despite Ritchie having someone sitting alongside him who prods him for clarification - he introduces himself but his name isn't clear and the commentary isn't subtitled - Ritchie gives little away, only confusing the matter further and when he claims that explaining why Dorothy Macha has a girl's name would take him hours, you find yourself wondering if there's really a point to Revolver at all.
The Concept (16m16s): It has one? Revolver is a baffling film but this is no less confusing as Guy Ritchie, who's interviewed here, talks about the writing and editing of the film whilst being careful about giving nothing away. Unsurprisingly, he does tend to talk himself in a circle, whilst editor James Herbert - not that one - doesn't add much regarding the plotting but becomes visibly excited when talking about the editing of the film. What does surprise, though, is that Mr Madonna, who must have access to a pair portion of the Ciccone millions, can't afford a better jumper other than the natty checked effort he sports here.
The Making Of Revolver (24m30s): Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham are interviewed here, intercut with behind-the-scenes footage, to produce a slight feature that's too jittery to ever settle on any one part of the production. Of the two, Statham is the more interesting but saying that is like betting on which snail will first complete a marathon, although Ritchie has the better scene in which he explains to a set of confused university/college students how to go about getting a film funded. Unfortunately, his wise words don't include, "Try not to have made a film with the missus prior to going a-calling in Hollywood!"
Deleted Scenes (24m12s): Combining extended versions of scenes that were in the final film, such as Jake and Avi's chess game, as well as entirely new scenes and a voiceover that was cut from the soundtrack, this sheds a little light on the plotting of Revolver but would have stretched the final cut out to a painful length. Also, some scenes just work much better in the finished version than they do here - there's an extended scene with Sorter firing on Lord John that intercuts, for some odd reason, a bongo player with the action that's almost more ridiculous than anything else in the movie. Finally, there's an alternate ending that mixes bloody gangland corpses with quotes from Hitler, Nietzsche and, er, Nigel Short.
Outtakes (4m00s): Proof, were it needed, that with these not making the final cut, some editing did actually occur and that not everything shot onto film was chopped together in the hope of producing order out of chaos.
Finally, there's a Stills Gallery (11m19s) and a Music Trailer (3m45s) of a remixed Ennio Morricone track.
Superb menus, though, which may not quite be enough to warrant a purchase of this DVD but they're still worth a mention. They do indicate, when taken with the quality of the transfer, that Revolver has enjoyed a decent release. Granted that it may be one that the film doesn't always deserve but I suspect, though, that Revolver may find a new lease of life on DVD, where those who were left cold by it in the cinemas take a second look at it to try and understand it better. Whether it's worthy of that is a different matter - I would tend to think not but like the cracking of a code, there's bound to be those who return to Revolver with the thought of getting whatever sense there is out of it.