Writer-director Guy Ritchie is as well known for his cockney-accented crime capers as he is for being Mr. Madonna. But for the last four years, he's been immersed in the esoteric mechanics of the human mind, attempting to shoehorn heady concepts about the ego -- what modern psychiatrists call "the conceptualized self" -- and its often malevolent influence into his latest crime drama, "Revolver."
The film, which opened Friday, stars Ritchie's old friend Jason Statham as Jake Green, a shaggy-haired con man who's released from prison after years of solitary confinement. While fulfilling a vendetta against a casino boss (Ray Liotta), two mysterious loan sharks (Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore) take over Green's life, forcing him into their dirty shakedown game.
At least, that's what happens on the surface. This plot is so layered with hidden references -- religious, mystical, numerological and psychological -- that even Statham had to watch it two or three times to really feel he understood it. It's a spiritual journey, sandwiched into an otherwise traditional Ritchie movie, the filmmaker's attempt to educate his fans on something more intimate than his usual fare. But Ritchie's quick to stress that the film isn't about cabala, the Jewish mysticism that his wife has so publicly embraced. But he does suggest that widespread awareness of the ego's influence on our psyches could even accelerate global peace.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, December 11, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Guy Ritchie film: An article in Saturday's Calendar section about Guy Ritchie's new film, "Revolver," incorrectly identified psychologist Steven C. Hayes as a psychiatrist.
This isn't the sort of film that Ritchie's fans expect from him. He's popular for his gun-slinging, testosterone-fueled crime capers, including 1998's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" in 2000. (His remake of "Swept Away," starring Madonna, is best forgotten.) Statham pointed out that "Revolver's" arty treatment of an already dense subject frustrated the average blokes who'd grown to love Ritchie for all the manly bluster and dark humor of his early films.
Despite the nasty reviews the original version of "Revolver" inspired when it was released in the U.K. in 2005 -- the Daily Mirror called it "a crime against cinema" (it grossed a meager $2.9 million in Europe) -- the director clearly cherishes this project. He's spent the last two years re-editing "Revolver," while simultaneously shooting a documentary that complements it. He has filmed more than 400 hours of documentary footage on the topic of the ego, interviewing hundreds of renowned psychiatrists and psychologists, clerics, Deepak Chopra, even master egoist Bill Clinton.
To help demystify "Revolver," Ritchie has ended the feature with a few sound bites from his documentary interviews. The plan, he said, is to release a series of documentaries on the subject, starting with one called "The Ego Has Landed."
Perched on the edge of his seat, in one of his favorite corner booths in the Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge, Ritchie was eager to mine the subject, appreciative of the opportunity to explain himself.
"The only sort of evil -- for lack of a better word -- that there is in the world is what psychiatrists now call the conceptualized self," Ritchie said, mopping his brow after a quick swim in the hotel's heated pool. "That's what they used to call the ego. It manifests itself individually and collectively. . . . I don't wish to make this too intellectual or even pseudo-intellectual. It's what we understand as selfishness and greed."
He readily admitted "Revolver" isn't for everyone and likely won't reach a mass audience. The main characters represent the founders of Judaism -- Abraham (Benjamin), Jacob (Statham), Isaac (Pastore) -- plus the pharaoh (Liotta) and their "mystical escape from the physical domain," he said. There's some inexplicable animation, an uber-tan Liotta in leopard-skin bikini underwear and a lot of loose ends. In a climactic scene, Green writhes and contorts in agony while locked in an elevator. At the end, he's seen playing chess -- and winning -- against Benjamin's character, seemingly a metaphor for his character's triumph over his own ego.
Ritchie believes the British response to the film, in which one man (Statham) conquers his fears by confronting his self-made limitations (the prison), was just proof of the premise's veracity.
"Anyone that preaches or exposes or in any way draws light to this aspect of self puts themselves in a position that has to be unpopular," he said. "The truth hurts. You are your own worst enemy. We all know these expressions. But what's at the root of these expressions? We're protecting our sense of self. And that's the trick. The irony is that you're holding on to all your pain in order to give you a sense of self."
Next up: new crime drama
Ritchie still considers himself a commercial film director -- he's in post-production on "RocknRolla," a Warner Bros. crime drama set in London, starring Gerard Butler, Jeremy Piven and Thandie Newton, and opening next year.
But he said the genre films he's famous for just don't inspire him in the way "Revolver" and his documentaries do.