If there are a couple of things you can bank on in a Guy Ritchie film, it’s that the plot will be complicated (Is that bookie the brother of his rival’s boss? Does the gangster, who may or may not be a pimp, owe his father money? And what kind of accent is that, anyway?) and the men will be chic. Ritchie’s underworld is a place where the hoods wear Savile Row suits and $400 jeans; their closets, one imagines, are stuffed with Prada trainers. It’s the Sopranos gone Harrods—less flash, more class.
Of course, in the 10 years since Ritchie blazed onto screens with his acclaimed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels—in which the working-class card sharks sport tailored trenches and little of the bling known to rest inside the open collars of such men-about-town—much has changed for the writer-director. He married one of the world’s most famous women and style icons, started a family and suddenly found himself fighting the one-hit-wonder curse. He followed Lock, Stock with the labyrinthine Snatch in 2000 and then got the worst reviews of his short career with 2002’s Swept Away (featuring Mrs. Ritchie, Madonna), after which he made Revolver, a 2005 film that returned to his Brit-mobster stomping ground but had a critical reception that was, well, tepid.
Ritchie’s fifth feature film, RocknRolla, opens at the end of October, and while it is perhaps his most fashion-conscious work yet—at one point, the camera pans to Thandie Newton’s red-soled Christian Louboutins click-clacking across the floor of an ultraswank art gallery—it’s also a rollicking return to form. There’s plenty of quick-witted dialogue and a twisty plot involving a Russian oligarch, a sexy double-dealing accountant (Newton), a crook looking for the next big deal (Gerard Butler) and a London gangster (Tom Wilkinson) clinging to his territory in a city being bought up by sultans and Muscovites, a storyline inspired by Ritchie’s own hometown observations.
“I was reading this article about how the food had improved here, about all the sort of things that the English are famous for doing badly, and how that has changed. [London has] stolen the mantle of the new capital of the world, and I thought it was time someone made a film about that,” says Ritchie, speaking via phone from his London office. Perhaps because his public persona has been shaped by his gruesomely violent movies and by paparazzi photos, in which he is usually grim-faced, clutching his wife’s elbow while exiting a car or restaurant, Ritchie’s apparent cheerfulness—he muses blithely about the weather and refers to his extras as “fellas”—is surprising. He is openly fascinated with wealth, power and how the rigid class structure in England has gone suddenly soft. (Ritchie himself is an upper-class lad, the son of a successful advertising executive; severely dyslexic, he dropped out of school at 15.) “When the Russians did come to town, they changed the way business was done,” he says, “and that percolated through the echelons of almost every form of business and society. There are houses going for 80 million pounds that are, you know, not so special. But if you have a couple of oligarchs fighting over one, they don’t care what they pay. ‘It’s 10 million? All right, offer ’em 20.’ It was probably good for England, because everyone got sort of busy and competitive.”