Guy Ritchie Escapes the Curse of Auteur Commercial Directors

Maybe We Should Be Grateful We Got to See the Nike Products and Not Madonna

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How to tell, from a press release, that a commercial is going to suck:

1) "We are very excited ..."
2) "... breakthrough ..."
3) "... a shoot lasting 8 days involving four cranes and 27 separate cameras ..."
4) "... supermodel ..."
5) "... shot by renowned film director _____ ____."

Especially that last one. Martin Scorsese for Gatorade? Maybe it sounded promising. After all, "Goodfellas," "The King of Comedy," "Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver" -- the man has some directing credentials. But even with Harvey Keitel playing his usual menacing self (as a foil for the angelic Derek Jeter), at God-knows-what expense, the results were disappointing and forgettable.

Likewise the Coen brothers -- the Coen brothers! -- for H&R Block in a Super Bowl ad a few years back. Do you remember that commercial?


(David Mamet has done a Mamet-ish spot for Ford, but its mediocrity doesn't count because it's exactly as stilted and badly performed as most of his films.) Even a god of comedy like Christopher Guest has been consistently ordinary, most recently with his ensemble in a series of anti-cable commercials for DirecTV. OK, none of these examples are genuinely awful, but they're all eminently ordinary. And ordinary is achievable by other means.

All of this gets to the new Nike soccer-apparel spot from 72andSunny, Los Angeles, directed by Guy Ritchie. From the PR pitch:

The cornerstone of the campaign and its tagline is revealed in a two-minute film called "The Next Level" that's directed by Guy Ritchie of "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" fame. Guy Ritchie caused a lot of buzz when it was leaked that he was involved in this project, with rumors circulating that his wife, Madonna, would be recruited in the effort! (That ultimately didn't happen.)

Uh oh. Sure, Ritchie is indeed a witty and stylish director, and Nike has some pretty fair TV-commercial credentials of its own. But in consideration of Item Five, above, we had every reason to expect the resulting ad would totally blow big time.

But it doesn't. On the contrary, it is quite good. And more remarkably still, it is a very nice reflection of both Ritchie's and Nike's aesthetics: stylized realism plus a cast of soccer heroes plus just enough ironic detachment not to take itself too seriously.

The video, like the soccer campaign itself, is tagged "Take it to the next level." It's a POV story -- minus dialogue or narration -- of a talented soccer player who somehow is plucked to play for England's Arsenal. In the opening scene, from his last match as an amateur, he is awarded a penalty kick -- which he drives over the defensive wall and bends like Beckham into the goal. On the sidelines: Arsenal's manager.

From that point on, all again through our faceless hero's eyes, we see his career go to the next level, including women, autographs and eye-popping on-the-field action. This is all recorded via classically swooping, quick-cutting Ritchie camera work until the culmination of the guy's transition to stardom: a penalty kick, in front of 40,000 roaring fans, exactly like the one he scored on his neighborhood pitch.

OK, so maybe it's a little on the predictable side; it's also a whole lot of fun. And we get a really good look at all the Nike gear, which is pretty cool too.

We're just grateful the phony rumors weren't true. Had Madonna actually been shoehorned into a Nike ad ... well, see Item Five, above.

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