By Aaron Hillis
[Photos: Jason Statham in Guy Ritchie’s “Revolver,” Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2007]
Strutting his pomo plumage with 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and 2000’s “Snatch,” English writer-director Guy Ritchie proved then that Quentin Tarantino wasn’t the only player on the field who could kick out a witty, whizz-bang crime flick. And because two out of three ain’t ever bad, you can almost forgivingly laugh off his “Swept Away” remake in anticipation of what could’ve been a welcome rebound, until high expectations felled the rising fanboy giant. Finally seeing a U.S. release, Ritchie’s hyper-kitschy return to Gangsterville, “Revolver,” unloaded upon the 2005 Toronto Film Festival to a notoriously damning critical reception, and the British theatrical run didn’t fare much smoother. (Rather than read the hometown reviews, check out this curious investigation into the film’s poster-campaign controversy.) “Revolver” stars frequent Ritchie collaborator Jason Statham as a greasy-haired con artist who after seven years in jail for a crime he didn’t, well, you know has come to exact revenge on Speedo-wearing casino boss Ray Liotta and his quirkily named henchmen. Slather that with countless quotes from the likes of Julius Caesar and Macchiavelli, Kabbalahist symbolism, three days to live from a rare blood disease, sphinx-like thugs André 3000 and Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore, monologuing over chess, an anime interlude, a metaphysical rug-pull of a climax, and well… it’s probably better to let Madge’s hubby do the explaining.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to cut to the chase. What took so long to get “Revolver” to the U.S.?
Well, I don’t think anyone understood it. I don’t think it’s any more complex than that. I mean, one of the cons of the movie is that your mind won’t accept a game this big, [nor] accept the simplicity of the concept. But your mind’s sort of geared up, that’s what the film’s about. It’s geared up not to understand the premise that you are your own con man, or the con man is hiding in your own head. The reason that we fall for adverts and so forth is that our mind is conditioned to understand illusions. It doesn’t understand truth. In fact, it’s repulsed by truth.
But tangibly, what do you think wasn’t being understood? There are plenty of successful art-house films that deal in abstracts.
Absolutely, and incidentally, once you understand something about this film, it’s sort of dramatically simple. I can’t remember [its title], but there was a movie that I saw recently that I thought was so fucking complex and I thought, “Hold on, I’m having a hard time thinking mine’s complex, and this…” I mean, you’re right. There are so many movies that are so abstract. There was a line in the previous [version of “Revolver”] that is “If you try to save them to destroy him, they’ll destroy you to save him,” which is the idea that you’re protecting your own pain. So in proportion to how close you are to exposing your pain, that’s proportionate to how much you’ll be despised for it. I mean, I don’t know what I can tell you. It’s the movie that I made, and it’s a niche movie. It was never made to be massively accessible. I wanted it to be sort of an intellectual gangster movie. There’s not many of them.
That’s a bit different from what you say in the press notes interview, where you joked that you never expected to “end up talking about high-flatulent concepts” and that you got into filmmaking because you were “interested in making entertaining movies.” How do you find that balance?
Ironically, the premise behind this movie is the most exciting of all premises, but it’s hard to see it. I mean, if you speak to Jason [Statham] about this, he’ll tell you that it took a while for it to dawn. But when it does, it’s “the” premise. It’s what all other movies are about. The last three movies I saw are about the same thing. You feed your demons at some point. They start off as infants, and they grow into fucking great dragons in the case of “Beowulf.” Or in “Michael Clayton,” the corporation got consumed by its own consumption and then tried to deny that someone would do all sorts of nefarious activities in order to deny that it was a nefarious institution initially. So what was all that? The mind was playing tricks, both individually and collectively. The mind’s a fucking trickster, man. That’s not news, but there’s some ambiguity about it. I didn’t want to be ambiguous. I wanted to be very specific about the fact that we’re at war with our own fucking minds. There’s no beating around the bush, that’s the reality of the situation. I just want to be really clear about that. [laughs] So that’s why it’s entertaining, because all narratives are based on that premise. We’re all hard-wired to be interested in that.
So who do you see as most guilty of not acknowledging that, general audiences or critics?
There were two things: One, I think the film was marketed in the wrong way, in the respect that it looked like it was just going to be an accessible gangster movie. It looked like we were advertising oranges and really selling apples. I don’t think that was too smart. Secondly, you have to be really specific about this movie. From my point of view, let it do what it says on the tin. If it says this movie is gonna fuckin’ tax you intellectually, be prepared for that. And in that way, I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed. It’s important that you do know what it is that you’re getting into, don’t you think?
Sure. But I have to admit, I don’t know what I’m getting into because I haven’t actually seen this new U.S. cut. I’ve only experienced the original version that screened at Toronto two years ago. How different is the re-edited film?
It’s about ten minutes shorter, maybe a little bit more. We’ve just made a few points clearer. I mean, we’ve deliberately made it more complex than the first one because we wanted people to have a hard time working it out. But we found that, once you fuckin’ spell it out, people still have a hard enough time trying to piece it all together, even when you tell them what it is in the first three lines. I think there’s a line in there now, which is: “There really is no such as an external enemy,” which is from the first page of some book on suicide. It just tells you, but people still say, “What’s the movie about?” So there’s no question that the mind doesn’t want to understand. There’s a gang of psychiatrists at the end of this, as well, sort of telling you what it’s about.
Had you taken this universal premise you speak of and put it into a genre you’re not regularly recognized for, do you think maybe the reactions might’ve been different?
No, I don’t think so. It would’ve been good that “the Guy Ritchie thing” which in the U.K. is kind of a brand, right? if that hadn’t gotten in the way, it would’ve made life easier. But you’re not going to get around the fact that it’s a square hole and a round peg, you know? Either people will suddenly get into that and like it for that, or they won’t, and there’s nothing really I can do about that. If a film’s good, I think it comes through in the end. I can’t be the judge of that; it’ll percolate or it won’t. It’s out of my hands.
“Revolver” opens in limited release December 7th.