Revisiting TIFF 2005: Revolver

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of TIFF, I will be revisiting one film from each year I attended the festival. Please be aware that these discussions may include SPOILERS.

In 2005, the Toronto International Film Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary. In hindsight, I kind of wish that I saw more films during this year of the festival. This ended up being the final of my single-film TIFF years, with me choosing to go to the Ryerson Theatre to see a repeat screening of the Gala Presentation Revolver, which was produced by Luc Besson and directed by Guy Ritchie.

It can probably argued that in 2005 Guy Ritchie was probably more known as Madonna’s husband than a filmmaker, even though his first two features Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch developed a bit of a cult following. Guy Ritchie’s third film, the Madonna-starring romance Swept Away, was a huge bomb and I am sure that many expected Revolver to be a return to form for Ritchie.

All the pieces were there for sure. This was the third film of Ritchie’s to star Jason Statham, who was now beginning to break into the American market, with films such as The Transporter and The Italian Job. The film also featured an impressive supporting cast that included Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore, and André Benjamin.  However, the film turned out to be just as much an art film as a gangster picture, with the screenplay by Ritchie and Besson often being somewhat hard to decipher. As Guy Ritchie described during his introduction as the TIFF screening, Revolver is a “chess game on top of a chess game.”

Despite its often puzzling nature, I ended up absolutely loving Revolver and the psychoanalytical themes that are throughout the film. However, the critics were not so kind. Revolver was absolutely panned following its premiere at TIFF and the reviews were no better when the film opened in the UK later than month. It would be two years before Revolver was released in North America, in a re-edited cut that removed about ten minutes from the end and featured interviews during the credits with doctors talking about the EGO, just in case audiences didn’t understand what the film was trying to say.

It is a shame that the original cut of Revolver that I saw at TIFF in 2005 is not available in North America, since I believe it to be the superior version of the film, which resolves some lingering plot holes that are left in the re-edited version. However, the basic plot is the same in both versions of the film, in which Statham’s character of Jake Green gets out of jail and is assisted by two mysterious loan sharks in Green’s rivalry with casino boss Dorothy Macha (Liotta).

The first sign that Revolver is not your average crime thriller is when André Benjamin’s character of Avi makes specific reference to Green’s inner-monologue, which has been present throughout the entire film. Since most audiences are used to films having noir-style narration, they don’t think twice when the voice inside of Jake Green’s head keeps giving him instructions of what to do. However, in the very cerebral world of Revolver, that voice inside your head is your worst enemy. This all leads to main climatic moment of the film, where Jake Green literally confronts himself in an elevator, which probably features some of the most manic performing ever done by Jason Statham.

Even though Jason Statham is the main protagonist of Revolver, the film is practically stolen by Mark Strong, in the first of many collaborations with Guy Ritchie, as the hitman Sorter. While spending much of the film as a henchman for Dorothy Macha, Sorter eventually changes sides when he decides to protect Jake Green’s young niece. This leads into the film’s biggest action set-piece, which demonstrates Sorter’s remarkably good aim. It’s a shame that he isn’t in the film more. I also have to talk about the interesting decision to portray a heist scene in the film as partially animated. There is no real explanation why the film suddenly switches to animation, but it is definitely a very interesting sequence.

There are a few revelations that are made in the longer cut of the film, which are left out of the re-edited version. This includes the revelation that Avi and his partner Zach (Vincent Pastore) are also just part of Jake Green’s consciousness, even though the film still includes hints to that regard. The longer cut also features a resolution to Dorothy Macha’s storyline, which he gives in to the voice inside his head and shoots himself. It’s a bit forgivable that this moment was left out of the re-edited version of the film, since the true climax of the story is Jake Green’s confrontation with himself in the elevator.

Sadly, Revolver has become a forgotten film in Guy Ritchie’s filmography. Ritchie returned to the style of his first two films with 2008’s RocknRolla, before departing from crime films entirely with the two Sherlock Holmes films and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as well as his next film Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur. Revolver is an example of the filmmaker taking a serious risk and I honestly believe that it is one of Guy Ritchie’s most underrated films.

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).