The thing I enjoy most about Guy Ritchie films is their loose-cannon, wild vibe. They're full of tough, brooding characters, and funny, almost idiotic side-characters that keep the tone light. They're always about seedy underworld crime, never anything complex. Ritchie's sixth film, 'Revolver,' never caught on with audiences because it was just that; more complex, more ambitious and lacked those easy entry points in aloof, nonsensical characters doing ridiculous or dangerous things. But does that make it a bad film?
Expert con man Jake Green (Jason Statham) has been released from Solitary confinement after seven years. He was placed there for his connection to crooked casino owner Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta) and now Jake wants revenge. Two years later Jake is found in one of Macha's casinos trying to score lots of money. Jake is following a winning "Formula" for conning people that he developed in jail while communicating with two other inmates through code and playing chess by himself. Jake bets big and wins, humiliating Macha, who subsequently orders a hit on Jake and his family. Macha's point man, The Sorter (Mark Strong), has the uncanny ability to always hit his targets, but for some unknown reason, he misses when trying to shoot Jake. Jake is rescued by Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (André Benjamin). In turn, they offer Jake protection, but in return he must turn all of his money over to them. Still with me? Good, because this is where it gets a little batty.
It is discovered that Zach and Avi are actually the two neighboring inmates who communicated with Jake, and that by turning over his money to them, he cannot invest in the material things that will only feed one's ego and make one think that being financially secure is the road to happiness. Going down that road only leads to an unending quest for power and greed. Zach and Avi are "consciously" training him to review the rules of the con, and to realize that the biggest con is the one where one's ego convinces oneself that they must do what comes naturally and succumb to nature's primal instincts and the dog-eat-dog world, personified in Dorothy Macha. Jake must face his biggest fear and apply the rules of the con and escape the deadly cycle of selfishness before he goes down the path of self-destruction. Along with Zach, Avi, and eventually The Sorter, we see what happens when that lifestyle is rejected. Notice the differences from 'Snatch' and 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'?
If you're attentive, you might notice that Revolver isn't a crime story at all, but rather a tug-of-war of inner conflict. I don't think Richie was entirely successful in tackling the material in an entertaining way, but he ventured into unfamiliar ground and I admire that. Some other films that could be viewed as exploring the human in Freudian lines of Id, Ego, and Superego like, 'I Heart Huckabees' or 'Panic Room' to a much lesser degree, earn a "like it or hate it" reaction as well. (Notice I didn't say love?) People go into these films initially thinking the film is heading one direction, are then confused of any direction, and if they're determined to stick through it to the end, realize it's a more philosophical or metaphysical film. The average movie watcher would probably steer clear if they knew that going in.
By the end you feel the need to re-watch it with a different mindset and Revolver does gets better with multiple viewings, but a 24-hour marathon won't make it 'Citizen Kane,' either. It suffers from a slow opening act, an animated sequence (a la Kill Bill Vol.1) with no reasonable context, an over-the-top Liotta and a wooden Statham, both of whom are supposed to carry the film. Only in the the films' final fifteen minutes do we get some real acting from these two. This release has also been edited down from the UK Theatrical release which has been better received by viewers of both versions.
Revolver does require viewers to be active and involved from the very beginning. We are conned into thinking it's one of Ritchie's patented heist films, but in the end, it's just a played out struggle in one person's mind and each character is another part of the puzzle. It's an ambitious and sometimes ambiguous attempt by Ritchie, who is a victim of his own early success. Everyone is either extremely critical of any attempt outside of his early work and if he decides to go make a film like 'RockNRolla' he's then dubbed a one-trick pony. Revolver is a crime-lover's philosophical tirade that can be, well, tiresome, but if the mind and its inner workings is something you fancy, then Revolver might be worth a look, otherwise just pick up 'Rocknrolla.'
'Revolver' has a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer at 2.35:1 that's a mixed bag of nuts. Colors are definitely bright and at times super-saturated, but that's always been a Guy Ritchie trait. Liotta's character is obsessed with tanning and his skin looks, well unhealthy, but the rest of the flesh-tones are warm. A comfortable level of film grain (another Ritchie trait) is ever present throughout the film and there's a nice 'Quilted Northern'-soft quality to the camera work, but, there are inconsistencies. Some scenes have good detail, deep blacks, and excellent contrast for instance, when Statham and Benjamin are playing chess or when Liotta is standing inside his mansion with beautiful frescos on the ceilings. Other scenes are wrought with weak blacks in night scenes and some close-ups make for flat, muddied, and low contrast images.
Loaded with a Dolby True-HD lossless audio track, 'Revolver's highest technical mark is its sound. Action sequences get amped up with lots of surround effects, and the subwoofers will startle you during scenes of violence. Perhaps that's why the Sorter comes off so cool. Dynamic range is fine, with dialogue easily understood (not always easy in Ritchie films) and clear at comfortable levels. There's also lots of atmospheric noise in the casino and restaurants that really put you in those settings.
All of the DVD supplements have been ported over, in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and in standard definition.
'Revolver' was made in a period when Ritchie (and his ex-wife) were heavily into the Kabbalah and numerology and I think this film reflects that time in his life. You do have to be in the right frame of mind to watch the film, to hang in with the slower pacing, and want to be involved in the story. Technically though, a very engaging and at times aggressive Dolby True-HD track makes up for some inconsistencies in the video department. The supplements are plentiful and support the feature sufficiently. I labored through the first half of 'Revolver' due to its slow pacing and cryptic plot, but I was able to figure where it was heading midway through and saw it for what it was, a visual representation of a man's inner war with himself. It's not what I expected, but I was pleased to see the director stretch himself and do something different. I caution those expecting a classic Guy Ritchie project to stay away because it just won't meet those standards.