CAPSULE: REVOLVER (2005)

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FEATURING: , , , Vincent Pastore

PLOT: Jake Green is released from prison and sets out to settle scores with the crime boss responsible for his sentence; two mysterious loan sharks who seem to know the future offer to help him, but Jake senses he’s being conned.

Still from Revolver (2005)

COMMENTS: Quite naturally, there are lots of guns and gunplay in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver, but there’s no pistol playing a featured role. The title might instead refer to the way the plot spins your head around. Personally, I suspect Ritchie chose Revolver to draw a comparison to the Beatles album of the same name. Prompted by newfound mystical awakening (via psychoanalysis, rather than the Hinduism that affected the Fab Four), he’s announcing his intention to turn to  serious and experimental work after having mastered a simpler form. If so, savage critical notices and flaccid box office returns quickly prompted Ritchie to return to conventional narratives, making Revolver the curiosity in his oeuvre rather than the departure point.

For fans of snappy, stylish gangster films hoping for another Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, Revolver begins promisingly enough. Haggard-but-handsome Jake Green (Statham) is released from captivity in an atmospheric downpour, which causes oily-but-elegant Macha (Liotta, very good here) a twinge of concern when he hears the news on a limo ride. Armed with conman wisdom he garnered from two cellmates in the slammer, Green sidles into Macha’s casino with long-game revenge on his mind. When the story pulls back, a twisted underworld comes into view: Macha strikes a dangerous deal with unseen kingpin “Mr. Gold,” while two loan sharks save Green’s life from assassins and put him to work for them, on their terms. They’re hatching a plan that involves some Yojimbo-style sabotage of Macha’s drug deal with a Chinese gang, and everything seems primed for a nice twisty thriller.

But don’t get too invested in that plot. Hints of something metaphysical keep screwing with the audience: precognitive warnings on business cards, twelve dollar bills, and the fact that the action inexplicably becomes partly animated during one caper. These bits set up one hell of an ambitious twist; but the problem with it is, it makes all of the preceding events arbitrary and meaningless. Really, there’s not even a point to Jake Green being a gangster; Ritchie could have written him as a politician, a car salesman… or even a film director. The misdirection here goes so far afield it feels like cheating—an especially distressing development because the film is presented and structured as a game. The effect is not like being surprised by an opponent’s intricately plotted chess move, but like learning that your opponent was playing a different game all along, and that all the moves you both made were completely irrelevant. You see, the movie’s all symbolic and deep; but Ritchie manages to fumble the reveal so that it’s somehow simultaneously confusing and obvious. Allegories work best when they play fair in their own narrative worlds; they usually falter when they go out of their way to announce themselves (Ritchie even appends clips of a bunch of psychologists talking over the credits, explaining the basic concepts underlying the movie’s “mind blowing” theme). There’s a difference between subverting an audience’s expectations and betraying them. Early on, Green’s internal monologue informs us that “in every con, there is always a victim. The trick is to know when you’re the latter…” At the end of Revolver, you’ll know you’ve been the victim of Guy’s jejune “gotcha!”

Revolver was the kind of self-indulgent mess that could easily have ended Ritchie’s career, particularly following as it did on the heels of another huge flop (the romantic comedy Swept Away). If nothing else, it’s a testament to the director’s perseverance that he’s still cranking out films for major studios today. He certainly hasn’t dared to try anything this outside-the-box since.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ritchie may still be working within his beloved cockney gangster milieu, but he does to it something akin to what Alejandro Jodorowsky did to the Western with El Topo, or to the slasher flick with Santa Sangre. In short, Revolver is a strange trip that dazzles the eye and exercises the brain, amply rewarding multiple viewings and certainly worthy of critical reevaluation.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Daniel wiram, who called it an “outstandingly [weird] but great movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: REVOLVER (2005)”

  1. A good write up of Ritchie’s most ambitious gangster flick, if not necessarily his most entertaining or satisfying one. It’s definitely the only one that is worthy of any kind of consideration on a website devoted to the appreciation of weird movies. I like how the reviewer draws attention to Ray Lotta’s performance, which I was also impressed by, and I agree with the criticism that the “twist” is not handled properly.

    This movie is a very good example of how a director can fail when they try to be weird but don’t really understand weird cinema. We all know that when enjoying a weird movie the main thing is to momentarily shut down the left brain and stop asking questions. For example, in Lost Highway, halfway through the movie, one character unexpectedly changes into an entirely different character played by an entirely different actor. That’s a pretty big twist, but if we pause and ask too many questions about that, then we will fail to enjoy the rest of the film. In Revolver we are also required to suspend disbelief and accept a “twist” that involves questions of identity. However, Guy Richie prepares his “twist” in a very different way. Lynch uses clever cinematic tricks to carefully create an emotional atmosphere that allows you to accept the new turn of events. These tricks are complex, but they basically boil down to techniques of editing and the use of sound and music to create a certain feeling. Guy Ritchie is a decent editor and also displays a pretty good use of sound and music, but he doesn’t deploy these talents to create a mood or atmosphere; he just throws them in the audience’s face randomly when he suspects they are getting bored (that criticism aside, I love the sequence where the protagonist is smashed through the windshield of a car in slow motion). Instead, he chooses to prepare the “twist” with a series of title cards containing various quotations about games and war (“The only way to get smarter is by playing a smarter opponent.” – Fundamentals of Chess, 1883). That is bad strategy for a weird movie because it forces the audience to read, which engages the “left brain” and hence destroys the “weird” effect.

    It feels weird to say this about Guy Ritchie, who helmed the recent Sherlock Holmes franchise and started out with various action/comedies of the British gangster variety, but this movie is just too damn intellectual. Too much left brain, not enough right brain .

  2. constantly i used to read smaller content that also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading at this place.

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