Overlooked Films on DVD: RockNRolla and Paradise Now

Straight from the film’s opening shots, there is little doubt who the writer and director is behind RockNRolla. Containing all his favorite elements—London’s seedy underworld, sex, drugs, corrupt politicians and lavish excess– the film provides layers upon layer and rich, colorful characters. Writer/director Guy Ritchie brings together a stellar cast– Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba [The Wire], Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Chris Bridges, Mark Strong [Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day]– a cool concept and a cunning storyline. Everything and everyone ties back together in the end.

The setting: London. Uri, a Russian mobster [Karel Roden], wants to build a sports arena and to avoid all that nuisance of building permits and piles of paperwork, he enters a deal with London mob boss Lenny Cole [a ruthless Wilkinson] who a few politicians in his back pocket. Uri just needs to deliver 7 million and he’s good to go. Of course he hired The Accountant Stella [a wonderfully devious Newton] who has the Wild Bunch of One-Two [ Butler], Mumbles [ Elba] and Handsome Bob [Tom Hardy] working for her to steal the money as soon as it is en route to Lenny– some really funny/bloody scenes here.

add into all this that Lenny’s stepson is a famous rocker, Johnny Quid, who the paper’s have reported as dead but Lenny knows better. He’s a junkie that one. When Uri lends Lenny his “favorite painting” as a good will/good luck gesture at the beginning of their relationship, no one would even guess it would end up missing and in the hands of said rocker. After the money keeps getting stolen and everyone loses trust in each other, Uri demands the painting back but it is gone. After some detective work, the painting is recovered, and One-Two, who has a crush on Stella, gives her the painting. But Uri also has a crush on his accountant and is furious when he sees the painting in her flat.

To reveal any more would give away too much of this film and RockNRolla brings it all back around in the snap-pop-gasp way that Ritchie can often deliver.RockNRolla is easily my favorite Ritchie film so far. This time the major deals, double- and triple-crosses are in real estate. It is the new heroin. RockNRolla twists and zips along and will keep you guessing more than a few times.

This film is nothing short of engulfing, emotional and horrific. In Paradise Now two Palestinian friends (Nashef and Suliman) are recruited for a suicide bombing mission in Tel Aviv. They are not fanatics. They do not seem like the scary terrorist “types” that one expects. They are sweet young men and through the filmmaker’s unflinching lens: we empathize with the lives they lead, having grown up under siege and feeling a generational pull to “do something” about living in an occupied state.

As an American, I do not relate to nationalism as the Palestinians or Israelis do. I feel lucky– post 9/11 to live in the United States. However, we are so in fear of terrorism and so focused on getting back at those who hurt us that we have lost many civil liberties and our leaders have displaced much of the focus from important domestic issues (healthcare, “women’s issues”-morning after pill, abortion rights, environmental, economic) that it has started to become disconcerting.

Paradise Now shows a bit of the behind the scenes planning: getting haircuts, passports with fake identities and wearing suits to look like “settlers” (Israelis), having essentially a last supper, taping good-bye missives that will be shown on television and spending the nights with their families. Once on the mission, the two friends get separated which jeopardizes and changes the original plan. Re-thinking the validity of this martyrdom, will the two men go through with this?

Leading up to this undertaking, Said has become a bit smitten with Suha (Lubna Azabel), a strong, independent, willful woman. She is a peaceful activist/protester and does not condone violence and certainly not the type of activity in which her new friend has become involved. She has a much more liberal, Western-influenced ideology having been born in France and raised in Morocco. A cabbie does not even recognize her as a Palestinian woman. Her father was the revered leader Abu Assam. She speaks to Said the night before his mission (not knowing his intentions) and they end up in an argument of sorts where she insists that there are other ways, better ways to work for the Palestinian cause and to rebel against Israel. This may be the way many Palestinians feel. Not everyone is involved in terrorist organizations, after all. It is important to see this opinion expressed.

For the men, it is more difficult to separate themselves from what they were born into: a life in captivity. One in which it matters not if they are dead or alive. Of course, with the Muslim religion, there is the belief that suicide bombers will go directly to Paradise (thus the title). “What will happen after,” one asks. “Two angels will pick you up.” Paradise Now deftly explores the concept of martyrs, the reasons why someone would carry out a suicide mission and the suffocating lives of many Palestinians by not having their own country. It is done in a tasteful way. This is not a piece of political propaganda but something that has been made from the heart.

I will never understand Israel’s unwillingness to reach some sort of compromise with the Palestinians. 15 years ago in college, as a political science major, I took a class called “The Arab-Israeli Conflict,” which focused solely on this issue. I never thought that over a decade later there would still be not resolution. Paradise Now is thought-provoking, disturbing and painfully realistic.

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