DVD - Image A Sound A Extras C-
BD - Image A Sound A Extras C-
starring Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore, Andre Benjamin
written and directed by Guy Ritchie
by Walter Chaw Give Guy Ritchie a little credit for being ambitious and take a little away from him for being so relentlessly pussy-whipped that Revolver, his return to the neo-Mod gangster genre that made his name, is one part rumination on the mystical mumbo-jumbo of his then-wife's Kabbalah, one part exploration of the self-actualized ego, and every part pretentious, pseudo-intellectual garbage. It's so fascinated with itself that the yak-track on the film's DVD and Blu-ray releases finds Ritchie periodically consulting his assistant as an augur of whether or not Ritchie has gotten too complicated for the audience of nitwits not put off enough by the movie to avoid watching it again with the commentary activated. He believes he's created something of such vast, far-reaching, ungraspable, existential implication that this cheap, showy action pic is the ne plus ultra of modern experience, with Ritchie our schlock Zoroaster, guiding us through avatar Jake Green (Jason Statham) as he emerges from years of solitary confinement, during which he learned the parameters of the perfect con by intercepting the chess moves of the two prisoners on either side of him. Jake has claustrophobia, something Ritchie helpfully offers is a "metaphorical fear," by which I think he means that it's a metaphor for all fear; his clumsiness with the articulation of this single concept illustrates how it is that the rest of it is such a godawful mess. Consider Revolver's interesting only to the extent that Ritchie's self-absorption is ironic when applied to a picture about the internal struggle between Freud's personality strata--never mind that Jake's Super-Ego is André Benjamin and his Id appears to be motherfucking Big Pussy. Jesus, this is a stupid movie.
Jake wins a huge amount of cash, much to the consternation of casino boss Dorothy (Ray Liotta). But when Jake learns that he may have a mysterious blood disease, he's contacted by Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (Benjamin) with a nonsensical, Mephistophilean bargain whereby Jake gives them all his money in exchange for Byzantine revenge on Dorothy. Revenge for what, though? And how is it that Zach and Avi have any leverage on Jake again? How stupid of you to ask: the film isn't supposed to make literal sense. Revolver is explained away--in a God-said-to-Job sort of way--as essentially a struggle between good and evil, just like The Matrix, or Fight Club--except that this film is entirely a product of the protagonist's attempts at a Transcendence of the Conceptualized Self and The Matrix and Fight Club don't suck. Deepak Chopra, eat your heart out. What a load of shit, but bully for Ritchie for giving Celestine Prophecy/Jonathan Livingston Seagull pop-lit an even glossier sheen, if no more cachet in crafting an entertainment that no one with any developed cosmology would be the slightest bit interested in this simplistic garbage.
A sequence where Avi, Jake, and Zach conspire to frame opposing gangs in an extended hotel heist is punctuated by anime-style illustrations that clarify exactly how deep, and ever-widening, is the gulf separating Quentin Tarantino (who did the same thing, of course, in Kill Bill) from the directors accused of hitching a ride on his coattails. When Tarantino does it, it's in a tradition of storytelling that's organic to the fabric of the character's development; when Ritchie does it, he's jerking off in public. It's telling, too, that the scene is no more nor less gimmicky than any other scene in the picture, and even more telling that the only memorable visual in a piece filthy with visuals sees failed reality-show model Jasmine Lennard desecrating a lollipop. How's that for meta-irony? With undeveloped action sequences, slotted caricatures of Asian mobsters, and a tiresome and predictable Liotta further driving nails into its coffin, Revolver is a spectacular, gaudy trainwreck that serves as a punctuation mark on one of the goriest career immolations in recent memory. I did love Mark Strong as a bespectacled assassin (shades of credited "adapter" Luc Besson's Léon); the rest of it is cross-eyed badger shit--that bit about sound and fury and meaning nothing applicable again and particularly.
If Ritchie and editor James Herbert's aforementioned yakker hasn't already been immortalized in THE ONION A.V. CLUB's Commentary Tracks of the Damned, it should be. The highlight pull-quote has to be where they single out Lennard's fellatio cameo as definitive for the rest of the movie: "How can something that looks so good be so bad?" Amen, brother. The two spend most of the first hour of the film doing their best to explain what they think it's about ("So...the only con is the con of the self?") and the rest of it doing their best not to look like ponces while of course looking like ponces. There's an uncomfortable amount of plot explication, including a few moments where they admit they don't know what's happening in the strictest sense--a good chuckle coming for me when Ritchie confesses that he doesn't remember why he chose Beethoven to score a particular scene. Oh, dear. Ritchie, honestly, seems confused in the way that someone who's just had an explosion go off in his ear seems confused. If we're right, the cure for this has already come to pass with his divorce from Madge; one hopes that if he needs a deprogrammer, his mammoth alimony will cover it.
The disc's 2.37:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, for what it's worth, is vibrant and, at times, eye-popping. Colour separation is crisp and there's nothing of distraction in the way of artifacting. The DD 5.1 audio obnoxiously gives the rear discretes a workout--almost as much of a workout as the subwoofer gets from the score's persistent, punishing bass refrain. Special features proper begin with several deleted sequences (20 mins.) that, if Ritchie's introductions are to be believed, were mainly excised for being too exculpatory. Far from explaining the film, an opening voiceover, an extended chess sequence, a longer, more explicit golf scene, and, incongruously, more of Lennard showing her crotch only render a verbose picture more verbose. It speaks to Ritchie's arrogance that rather than say these elisions were made because the movie was already running long, he offers that he thought they were far too mind-blowing for their own good. An alternate ending provides the lone item of passing interest via a gallery of real-life crime scene photos that reminded me in a good way of Sean Tejaratchi's Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook. In fact, a passage from Katherine Dunn's introduction to the book is equally applicable to a damnation of Ritchie's confused career snapshot: "The old cop, like the old con, tries to trick us into forgiveness and complicity. By witnessing he has participated, by understanding he is culpable. And his real purpose is to disguise the truth--that he started out terrified and ended up liking it, fascinated, an aficionado." Ritchie doesn't know what his movies are about any more (he shares that with Richard Kelly, whose Southland Tales is identically-afflicted), and he doesn't know exactly why it is that despite his Himalayan high-mindedness, his movies are still basically blood and tits.
"Outtakes" (4 mins.) features Liotta acting crazy, people forgetting their lines, and Statham having trouble putting a rifle barrel into another man's mouth. It's fucking terrible but, let's be honest, no more terrible than the rest of it; quite frankly, the film could've used the moment where both Pastore and Benjamin are seemingly incapable of hitting a golf ball off a tee. "The Game: The Making of Revolver" (25 mins.) begins with Ritchie explaining that this is simply a movie about a game. Right off the B-roll bat is another shot of Lennard that, if nothing else, demonstrates that everyone understands that out of all the sturm und drang in this spectacle, it's that spectacle that has any kind of staying power. The remainder has Ritchie and Statham discussing what they think the movie is about, which is basically that the only enemy Jake has is Jake himself. Boy oh boy. What I'm taking from it is that Mark Strong is destined to be a star--and it's Strong who's conspicuously absent from these supplements. Ritchie does hint that there are numerical Easter eggs buried in the picture for those interested in conducting a little Peter Greenaway investigation, and ya gotta love Statham offering that the chess game in the picture is symbolic. I mean, really? Gosh. Statham also reveals that Ritchie will take suggestions--which is all well and good until it's Madonna, Shanghai Surprise Madonna, giving the suggestions.
"Revolver: Making the Music" (14 mins.) is a sleek bit of nothing wherein Ritchie attempts more psychobabble (it's not unlike listening to Mel Gibson talk religion) while composer Nathaniel Mechaly goes on for short bursts about how hard it was to score such a complex film. It's not a genre movie, he says, just an original movie. Mmm-hmm. Anyone curious as to how one sets a bass-heavy techno dance track to an incomprehensible vanity piece, here's your non-answer! Anyone, incidentally, who thinks that reviewing movies and their DVDs isn't work can suck my cock. "The Concept" (16 mins.), a bloated interview with Ritchie and Herbert, is, predictably, a regurgitation of everything they just tossed off with the yak-track, starting with Ritchie saying he knew Herbert would never understand the concept and that although many people had read the script, most of those people only thought they understood it. It's the kind of hubris that bespeaks a deep-seated insecurity in one's own ability to express oneself with clarity and precision. Lennard's thirty-second sucky-sucky is shown again, marking her as the most popular girl in the yearbook society. A useless "Photo Gallery" and "Music Trailer" (a remix of an Ennio Morricone track) along with previews for Southland Tales, Slipstream, Cleaner, and Snatch and the Blu-Ray promo reel round out the exhausting presentation. Here's the punchline: I was actually looking forward to this one. Originally published: January 6, 2009.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers While Revolver looks and sounds objectively "better" on Blu-ray than it does on DVD, the greater accuracy of the disc's 2.40:1, 1080p presentation brings into relief the garishness of the film's fidgety palette. The sulphur yellows in which Ritchie frequently, banally bathes scenes are so rich as to be nauseating, and the slight smear that greeted the ultraviolet blues in standard-def at least helped to diffuse the grotesqueness of Ray Liotta's tanning-bed closeups. You could complain that it's hella-grainy, with black levels the colour of dogshit, but I suspect you'd be missing the point. The attendant 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is really quite good, though, about as aggressive but more complex than the DD audio of the DVD. Extras are identical across both formats and identically mastered at 480i; previews for Hancock, Casino Royale, and 21 cue up on startup of the BD platter. Originally published: January 6, 2009.