Guy Ritchie’s Two Years of Impossibility
By Nick Haramis
Guy Ritchie is all too familiar with the reality of being in the public eye. In 1998, he burst onto the film scene with his explosive heist movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The waters cooled on his second film, Snatch, despite its loyal cult following and Brad Pitt’s absurd accent. In 2002, Ritchie needed a hit, but Swept Away, starring Madonna, was anything but. Along the lines of Gigli and Glitter, the film was reviled by critics. So, in 2005, Ritchie returned to his roots with Revolver, the story of one Jake Green, an affable winner who loses everything in the mother of all cons. The film was Ritchie’s biggest bust yet. What happened to the former golden boy of British cinema? And why would The Sun proclaim that Guy Ritchie was “back to his best?” The proclamation lost all credibility when it was revealed to have been created for the paper’s website by a PR agency on behalf of the film’s U.K. distributor. Fast-forward through two years of public scrutiny, adoption controversy, and tabloid fodder. Ritchie seems, of all things, excited to discuss the film as he sits in a conference room hidden deep within Manhattan’s Loews Regency Hotel. Articulate, unapologetic, and yes, affable, the director remembers his impossible last two years.
BLACKBOOK: It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the film’s Savile Row hitman.
GUY RITCHIE: Most tough guys are quite well dressed, by the way. Anyone in organized crime’or disorganized crime, for that matter’tends to dress very well.
BB: How much of that interest is rooted in your own background? Royal blood mixed with school expulsion and public brawls seems quite fitting.
GR: I’m not actually a tough guy, but I’ll accept the royal lineage. [Laughs.] It’s a funny thing. Essentially, I’m middle class, but somehow, everyone manages to link me to the Royal Family. In the English class system, which still sort of exists, I’m interested in both the upper and lower echelons. The two, funny enough, often end up mixing. It’s like the gamekeeper or poacher meets the Lord of the Manor kind of thing.
BB: Directors often work regularly with the same actors, and it’s obvious that you and Jason Statham get on quite well. How much of a director’s decision to keep working with the same players, do you think, comes from loving the actor versus loving the acting?
GR: It’s probably a bit of both. Jason can cover a lot of ground, but it seems he’s gotten typecast, at which point, it’s difficult to indulge oneself in something one might be quite good at. I think Jason’s quite a broad guy, which is why I like working with him so much, but as you know, he’s often cast as an action star.
BB: As you have said, Revolver was annihilated in the U.K. Why wait two years before releasing the film stateside?
GR: Easy, we just couldn’t sell the movie.
BB: Do you think the film was compromised by this second round of edits?
GR: No, not in the slightest. To a degree, its failure was because British audiences wanted another Snatch. They just didn’t understand it, and because of that, critics got excited.
BB: Do you care what the critics think?
GR: Yeah, I give a shit, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. The press sometimes gets in the way too much, though, in this case falling for the very thing the movie is about’their voice becomes more important than the voice of the movie. Sometimes, I think a little humble pie wouldn’t hurt.
BB: How much does critical reception affect future directorial decisions?
GR: The thing is, I never made Revolver to be a commercial film. If I’d wanted to make a purely commercial film, I would have made Ocean’s Eleven. This wasn’t designed to be like that. I realize I had bitten off quite a mouthful, but I created what I set out to create. And I’ll live with that.
BB: Audiences have noticed quite a few assumed Kabbalic references in the film. Was that deliberate?
BB: There are intimations of Fight Club in this film’the deus ex machina, the sadism, even the aesthetic. Was this film or others used for inspiration?
GR: It wasn’t deliberate, but I do recognize the correlation. Since making the film, I actually watched Fight Club. Truth is, I didn’t get the film the first time I saw it. In the end, though, it and Revolver are the same movie. I remember people thinking that Fight Club was about a schizophrenic. I don’t think it’s about a schizophrenic at all. It’s about the human condition. Whether it’s Brad’s character, or [Taxi Driver‘s] Travis Bickle, or [Revolver‘s] Jake Green, it’s about the human condition.
BB: How do you and your family manage to stay grounded in the face of public speculation and uninvited scrutiny?
GR: We don’t read the newspapers, and we don’t watch television. We don’t read press about the films, either. I read a few things this time around, but I didn’t read a single thing when Revolver first came out in the U.K. Zippo.
BB: You received Revolver‘s tepid reviews secondhand then?
GR: Oh, well you couldn’t help but notice. Even walking down the street, I was aware of it. The temperature of the country changed.
Photos courtesy Patrick McMullan Company.