Caution! Guy Ritchie has entered his Bergman phase. Ingmar Bergman. Having stylishly plumbed the depths of the action genre with his dazzling visual style and staccato pacing as crisp as the wrong end of a machine gun, he has decided to attempt something more. And for this he should be lauded. Alas, with REVOLVER he has used all his considerable bag of tricks hoping to stretch his genre into something profound, using his by-now usual tropes without being able to add substance to the considerable style he still commands. It’s no wonder this flick has been gathering dust since 2005.
He also returns to one of his best leading men, Jason Statham, as Jake Green, a man out of prison and looking to get the better of Mr. Macha (Ray Liotta) the man he blames for putting him there. Never mind he has all the money he will ever need, never mind that Mr. Macha has no reason to do anything but leave Green in peace. No, there is nothing for it but for Green to confront Macha and set the story in motion.
On the surface, it looks great. Steely-eyed cool guys playing rough without ever breaking a sweat, even the peculiar and dorky ace of a hitman with nascent obsessive-compulsive tendencies. He, of course, turns out to be the coolest of the bunch that also includes Vincent Pastore as a zaftig guardian angel with hidden motives, Andre Benjamin as his chess-playing partner in crime, and what may or may not be a cameo by Jet Li as a soon-to-be corpse already residing in a drawer in the morgue. The camera loosed from the bonds of conventional physics finds new ways to create a terrifying sense of danger and euphoria simultaneously. Mayhem, shootouts, incineration, and a nasty variation on the crucifixion blaze forth with a giddy exuberance. Beneath, though, it has a shopworn, threadbare aspect, borrowing catchphrases and more from other, clever, films in ways that smack of desperation, as though the reference will somehow result in reflected erudition. Ritchie, who both wrote and directed, grapples with the nature of evil, the question of free will, and why some people listen to the voices in their heads while others don’t. Watching what he makes of it all is not unlike watching the last kid on the grade-school playground work out the knock-knock joke that everyone else glommed onto in kindergarten.
Statham goes for broke. Usually the cool center of chaos, he goes all thespian during an elevator sequence in which his character personally tries to work out how the universe operates. The sequence, like the film, goes on agonizing repetitive minute after agonizing repetitive minute, repeating its premise, metaphysical, psychological, take your pick, with heavy-handed and ham-fisted symbolism. Let me put it this way. Jake’s stuck between floors 12 and 14. Liotta, however, prancing about in leopard-spotted briefs sported with a robust assurance, has found his destiny playing, for all practical purposes, the id in all its messy, impulsive glory. When Ritchie tosses in animated versions of his actors, the only thing that doesn’t scream gimmick about it is having Liotta’s hair actually combust, something that it seems to have been wanting to do for years.
REVOLVER is what happens when an instinctual filmmaker fights those instincts in the service of what he considers a higher calling. Rather than trusting the material to stand or fall on its own, he lays it on even thicker with a panoply of Ph.Ds and other talking heads, even Deepak Chopra, deconstructing what the audience has just seen by expounding on the ego. This would be the finest irony of the film, and yet one that can easily be construed as completely unintended. And there’s volumes of psychology, not to mention philosophy, there.