So I watched RocknRolla last night and feel the need to rant about it despite being way behind the times and the fact that I always go on about how I hate Internet bods moaning about films. But I think there's an important point about character motivation in scriptwriting here.
To be fair, there is a lot to enjoy about RocknRolla. It's beautifully shot, captures the sights and sounds of contemporary/imaginary London rather well and there are some excellent performances, particularly from Toby Kebbell who seems to be awesome in anything he does these days. Some of the dialogue is also pretty good and there are some nice little monologues - it's not a terrible script on the surface.
The problem is we're not given anything to care about.
Everyone in this film wants money - that's pretty much all that's motivating any of them. That's fine - we all want money, we can relate to that. But there has to be a reason behind it. I want money so I can pay for my wedding - if I robbed a bank tomorrow that would be my underlying motivation. In RocknRolla everyone wants money because that's just what people want, right? No one's desperate for it, there's nothing driving them to get money, they just want it because the film says they do.
A good example of where the film goes wrong (SPOILER) is in the opening where Gerard Butler and Idris Elba end up owing money to Tom Wilkinson. If they don't get it he'll have them messed up and that's going to drive them towards getting they any way they can. Except they sort this out in the first twenty minutes, and then just seem to want more money again, because that's what people do. Maybe I'm just not enough of a capitalist, but in the current economic climate there's something unsettling about the film's obsession with wealth and the property market.
Wait, there is one more thing driving the plot forward - a handy MacGuffin in the form of a painting. A painting that Karel Roden's character randomly lends to Tom Wilkinson, the reason for which I missed completely. It becomes important because we're told it is. And then we watch all these characters go after this painting because we're told they need it, but mostly they don't seem to care anyway. At one point Toby Kebbell, who has the painting, gets into a fight outside a club. Two characters watch this on CCTV, another watches it from further along the street - all three characters are supposed to be looking for him to get this painting back but do nothing when they actually see him. Because that scene isn't about the story, it's another cool yet random scene.
And that's the point - the script is basically there to hang cool scenes off of and that's about it. There's nothing driving it forward, nothing to care about, just a series of cool scenes.
The only interesting element of the story is Tom Hardy's love for Gerard Butler because he's the only character who wants something other than money. Unfortunately it's sidelined as a comedy subplot which I guess is Guy Ritchie's rather patronising acceptance of the gay community. But that's part of what makes it all the more frustrating - the elements to make the film work are all there, they're just not being used.
The best example of this is at the end of the film (MASSIVE SPOILER) when we find out that Tom Wilkinson set all the characters up at one point or another meaning they all had to do jail time. So there's this huge, untapped revenge motivation that we're only supposed to care about in the last ten minutes - we don't even know that half the characters have done any jail time until this point. That's what could've driven the script forward - that all these characters have been forced into a life where the only way they can make a living is through stealing because of the actions of this one man. They think they want money, but what they really want is revenge and through a series of misadventures they find it - that's a proper story.
It's a story that isn't really told because the film is too busy telling us how cool it is.