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Interview: Guy Ritchie

It’s been seven long years since a Guy Ritchie film has played in theaters stateside, but Revolver has finally arrived. Has Ritchie’s much awaited return to the gangster genre been worth the wait?

It’s been seven long years since a Guy Ritchie film has played in theaters stateside, but Revolver has finally arrived. Has Ritchie’s much awaited return to the gangster genre been worth the wait?

The seven year gap statement does leave out 2002’s Swept Away, a remake of an 1974 Italian film starring Madonna (Ritchie’s wife), which was universally panned by critics and didn’t resonate with the cult following the director had amassed with his first two films, Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels and Snatch, a pair of brilliant British crime capers loaded with bloody violence, wacky characters, ultra-flashy visuals, rapid editing and constant twists and turns. This same cult following, at least the stateside members, have been waiting with equal parts dread and anticipation for Revolver, a film that was released in Europe in 2005 to abysmal reviews (aside from the few odd critics that praised the film), and has now, finally, made its way stateside.

The basic story follows ex-con, conman, gambler, crook, and chess master Jake Green (an nearly unrecognizable Jason Statham) as his life takes and unexpected turn after two mysterious loan sharks (Vincent Pastore and Andre Benjamin) save his life from a mob hit ordered by his former boss and current archenemy Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta). Ritchie’s signature visual flash and quirky humor are on full display, and he throws in the same type of oddball characters, outlandish violence, and criminal behavior that made Lock, Stock and Snatch great. Fans will not be disappointed in this regard.

After seeing Revolver, I can understand why people hated it, and why other praised it. The tag line on the U.S. poster reads, “Your Mind Will Not Accept A Game This Big,” which is a pretty accurate summary of the theme that lies at the core of the film. It is not complex in a David Lynch kind of way, its intent is far more direct. And unlike the fluffy, pseudo-philosophy of Donnie Darko, Revolver has something substantial once you’ve peeled back the layers. It is really quite a brilliant film, but that doesn’t mean that audiences will like it. Conversely, the fact that people hate it does not make it any less brilliant.

I had the chance to speak with Ritchie at a recent roundtable interview in New York.

Question: What was the thought behind naming Ray Liotta’s character Dorothy?

Guy Ritchie: I wished you’d asked another question because I would have been able to answer it. Dorothy… I can’t remember, there was a reason he was called Dorothy. I think it might have something to do with the Wizard of Oz. Essentially it’s the same story as the Wizard of Oz

Q: This film embodies a really interesting balance between intellect and instinct. Do you feel that one overpowers the other?

GR: That is a very interesting question by the way, and you’ve slightly caught me broadsided with the sophistication of that question. And I would argue that instinct is more important than intellect.

Q: Why would you argue that?

GR: Well because I think that the intellect ultimately gets in the way. And the intellect can only take you so far. I think it’s very, very important, but the mind itself can’t understand truth, whatever that means to anybody, but it can’t understand reality… It can only take you to the threshold of reality, and then at which point it doesn’t want to understand reality because there is no employment for the mind in reality. So it itself is a defense, the ego or mind or whatever you want to call it. It’s a defense against reality.

Q: Does that dichotomy between instinct and intellect apply to filmmaking?

GR: Probably. I’d say it probably applies to the entire creative process. Yeah, in every respect. By the way, it’s a very interesting question, and it’s not one I’ve done a good bit of thinking about. But instinctively, I can answer it. [Laughs]

Q: There is a mystical and spiritual element to the world of crime in this film, crime as a path to self discovery. And then there are the interviews with psychologists you show during the credits.

GR: I think different words mean different things to different people, so some people call the path to getting away from oneself spiritual, other people don’t they call it intellectual. So one is the Freudian school of thinking, then there’s the Jungian school of thinking, and one is about finding god and one isn’t. So I’m not really sure if one has the handle on truth. It’s just different words for essentially the same thing. So I suppose really, in this film, what Sam Gold represents… is this sort of collective hallucination that some people call Satan and some people call the devil and some people call the full self and some people call the ego. But it’s essentially the same thing, it’s the dark side of our natures that has a very sophisticated way of seducing us, and then with a different accent or a different voice or a different guise comes to punish us for the very thing that has seduced us.

Q: Was it an easy choice to cut out Sam Gold?

GR: Well Sam Gold never existed.

Q: Vincent told us that in the original script Sam Gold was a bright light.

GR: You’ve got to watch out for that Vincent. He loves to tell a story. [Laughs] So no, Sam Gold was never manifested, in anything, because the point was is that Sam Gold does not ultimately exist.

Q: Is Sam Gold evil?

GR: The idea is that Sam Gold is the ultimate seductress, but also the ultimate prosecutor.

Q: Vincent and Andre are both great actors, but not the first two that you would think to pair together. How did you come up with this casting choice?

GR: I think I saw a poster of Vinnie in a Sean John campaign with a cigar on Sunset Strip, and I just liked the image, and considering I’d seen him in a few of The Sopranos things, I just fancied him as a character. And Andre because of his music videos and what he was drawn to creatively. I sympathized with what he was interested in creatively.

Q: Did you mold the characters after them, once they had been cast?

GR: Sort of, yeah.

Q: Why has the film taken so long to make it to U.S. audiences?

GR: Well I think partly because people didn’t understand it.

Q: But you have a lot of cult fans in the U.S….

GR: Well it’s not Snatch, and if you liked Snatch you’re not necessarily going to like Revolver. So the movie itself, and it was a tricky movie to make – the mind does not want to understand by the very premise – you are ultimately your own worst enemy. So its an unattractive premise to the mind. So it’s a square peg in a round hole. So it’s tricky. But I found the concept so attractive because I’m so interested in cons. And once I found out the mind works in the same way as a conman works, then I was afraid the premise was too good for me to ignore.

Q: Was Jason always the choice?

GR: Jason was, because he and I had been playing chess and talking about this premise for many years. So it only seemed like a natural fit.

Q: Have you ever conned anyone? Or been conned?

GR: I mean yeah, golly. Just think about this for a second: Adverts are based on the con, they’re trying to make you buy products you don’t need. And how do they do that? They appeal to an aspect of your nature that makes you feel as though you’re going to feel more whole if you have that. The whole society is based on cons. There is nothing that is not a con. When you present yourself to your potential significant other, you come up with a whole litany of what you think she would find attractive. In order for you to seduce her, you’re essentially conning her. The whole world of marketing is conning.

Q: Have you had this discussion with you significant other?

GR: Well, then gradually, what happens during the course of marriage, she finds out the sales pitch you presented… eventually the wheels fall off it. And I supposed the definition of becoming older is not wiser, but you start to realize what’s illusion and what’s truth. And I think the sort of smart thing to do is just get on with that as quickly as you can. But it’s an interesting question, because we don’t realize that adverts are simply cons. And the whole marketing world is simply based on cons. I don’t mind the fact that it is, I kind of like the fact that it is, because I’m interested in cons. But that is the situation, to call it what it is, I am being conned permanently, we’re all being conned permanently. But what aspect of our mind is so interested in being conned? There is obviously an aspect of our mind that is game to the con, that corresponds to the con, that wants to be conned, that wants to fall for it. But it’s also the aspect of our mind that is not interested in truth.

Q: Is Jake sort of like a Zen monk seeking enlightenment?

GR: It’s a funny think because I know very little about Zen. But it’s funny because the little bit I do know, which is post-film, is that there seems to be correlations between that. But I think the mystical traditions of the three monotheistic religions, and certainly the more mystical things like Zen, they all point toward the same direction, they all point toward getting out of one’s self or getting away from one’s self. So there is a uniform, ubiquitous philosophy that the self is the source of all psychological suffering. And I’m not revealing anything new, that’s just the way the world of thinking has always pointed, toward that direction. And I supposed I just try to be more efficient in saying that, ‘Look, your mind won’t understand.’ I think we have a line in the film, ‘Your mind won’t accept a game this big.’ And it can’t accept the thing that you and I were just talking about, the thing with the adverts all about cons. You really think that’s absurd. But then we go, ‘Hold on. Actually that’s true.’ And then you go, ‘What else?’ And then you realize how many other cons there are. And then the mind doesn’t inquire any further than that, it accepts it’s a con, and you say, ‘You know what? I don’t mind being conned.’ It’s strange.

Q: What kind of success do you anticipate for the film. You’re releasing it during a very competitive time of the year, it doesn’t seem like your typical holiday film…

GR: Really? This film’s all about Christmas. It’s just you’ve got to look for Christmas within it…

Q: But were any big distributors interested in the film?

GR: As you can probably appreciate, we’re going for a slightly different market than the conventional market. I mean, it’s a niche movie, right? It’s for people interested in seeing this type of film, it’s for people interested in this premise. Now a lot of people are, in a lot of different departments, so it’s not easy to say, ‘We’re going to hit this market.’ Because it’s funny what people are interested in this subject. But I’m here really because I’m trying to advertise what’s written on the tin, to make sure that when you go and buy the tin, it is what it says. So don’t go to this movie if you’re not interested in thinking. But if you’re interested in tricks of the mind, then this is a movie for you.

Q: So you’re not trying to con an audience into the film?

GR: It’s a funny thing actually. My experience is on this film, you can’t do it. On this movie, you can’t con people into it. Because usually you subscribe to your average movie, which I have made before also, you subscribe to the fact that you don’t have to engage too much intellectually, right? You don’t have to pay too much attention, the film sort of washes over you. But this isn’t that. So you can enjoy the experience if you engage within the experience, but I can’t pretend that it’s something that it’s not. Because it’s funny, I just cannot con you on that. It’s about the con, and you’re going along ready to find out about the con. And for some reason the mind rejects it if I try to pull the wool over your eyes.

Q: You’ve done all independent movies. Any desire to do a studio, big-budget film, or is that not your style?

GR:  Absolutely, it’s completely my style.

Q: Will that be RocknRolla? Or Gamekeeper?

GR: Actually RocknRolla is still quirky, so it’s true to my sort of previous identity, but it’s commercial in that respect, and it’s accessible. But I am absolutely and completely… I just haven’t gotten around to actually doing one. But it won’t be long. I like big commercial movies. Have you seen Beowulf? I thought it was a brilliant movie. But again the premise of that movie is a brilliant premise: you feed your demon and it turns into a dragon. And I’m interested in that as a premise. And of course I just like the fact that it was big and 3D and I saw it in IMAX.

Q: Would you be offended if someone comes out of this movie and says, ‘I don’t get this?’

GR: Absolutely not. I will not be offended by anyone who does not get this movie, because I understand how hard it is to get the movie.

Q: When did you decide to add the documentary footage during the credits? Was it always part of the premise?

GR:  No, because part of the problem when we started with this movie, is that you have to understand that your mind does not want to get it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the premise is simple. But I also understand the fact that the mind doesn’t want to get it. So I’m sympathetic to that, which is why I am very clear about, ‘Go and see this movie if you are interested in a challenge. Don’t go and see it if you’re not.’

Q: Is that why you put the therapists at the end?

GR: So I went and stuck a gang of shrinks in at the end, so you can at least walk away and go, ‘Well what was that about? Well that was about the ego.’ At least it gives you some hook to hang your understanding of what the movie was about.

Q: Is this you most personal film? Would you say you are trying to explore your own spirituality and intellect through the creative process?

GR: I think you do anyway, I think it’s inevitable. It’s kind of like cons and advertising, I think the two are inseparable. All movies are personal, by definition, because it’s coming from you. Particularly if you’ve written them. So I wouldn’t say it was more personal than anything else I’ve done.

Q: Was it always you ambition to make films? Is this your chosen profession?

GR: Pretty much. I didn’t believe that I could for a long time. It’s a rare privilege. But I’m lucky enough to have landed on my feet to a degree.

Q: Was it shot digitally?

GR: Yeah. It was all shot digitally.

Q: Did that give you more freedom to do different kinds of shots?

GR: No. In fact the advantage of what digital is now is a very different thing. Now the quality of digital is three cameras – I’m going to bore you for a second, alright? – There’s the ARRI  D-20, there’s the Viper, and there’s the Genesis. You will not be able to find the difference between that and film, celluloid. It’s the first generation of cameras where you cannot tell the difference between that and celluloid. It’s identical. In fact, since the genesis came out, that’s all I’ve ever used. I’m a big fan of moving forward with the technology, so… the last movie I shot I shot on the D-20, which is also digital. And I’ll only ever shoot on digital, given the choice now. It’s still a little restrictive, and film does have an advantage in certain respects, and they’ve been at it for a long time. But in the end, it will all be digital.

Q: Which camera did you use on Revolver?

GR: Do you know what? I think I’ve told a lie. On RocknRolla we used the D-20.

Q: Is there a reason it’s called ‘Revolver’?

GR: Yes, in part, because there’s a couple of names in the name ‘Revovler,’ but also because the idea is there’s a voice in your head, it’s the one that’s revolving, it’s both the one that seduces you and punishes you. So it’s kind of a revolving voice.

Samuel Goldwyn Films releases Revolver in theaters this coming Friday, December 7th.

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