Directed by: Guy Ritchie || Produced by: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by: Guy Ritchie || Starring: Jason Flemyng1-2, Dexter Fletcher1, Nick Moran1, Jason Statham1-2, Steven Mackintosh1, Vinnie Jones1-2, Sting1, Stephen Graham1, Alan Ford1-2, Brad Pitt2, Dennis Farina2, Rade Serbedzija2, Benicio del Toro2, Lennie James2, Robbie Gee2, Ade2
Music by: David A. Huges1, John Murphy1-2 || Cinematography: Tim Maurice-Jones || Edited by: Niven Howie1, Jon Harris2 || Country: United Kingdom, United States || Language: English
Running Time: 106 minutes1, 102 minutes2 || 1 = Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, 2 = Snatch
For most of my life — and by extension, most of the lives of most Millennials — I knew English filmmaker, Guy Ritchie, as that obscure British director who made a bunch of mediocre Hollywood blockbusters, including but not limited to Sherlock Holmes (2009, 2011), The Man from U. N. C. L. E. (2015) remake, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), and the Aladdin (2019) live-action remake, as well as Madonna’s second husband. It wasn’t until this year, and thanks to my recent first-time(!) Netflix subscription, that I watched his first two critically acclaimed British gangster films, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Both films are English reactions to the 1990s crime drama/black comedy hybrids spawned across the pond by Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction (1994), portraying the lifestyles and personalities of organized crime as farcical while not ignoring the seriousness of their principle casts’ dangerous occupations.
These two pictures launched the film careers of a then unknown Jason Statham and former Welsh footballer, Vinnie Jones (I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!), establishing a trend of Ritchie springboarding previously small-time British actors (e.g. Tom Hardy, Idris Elba) to fame. These films were also two of the first to be produced by Matthew Vaughn, who would soon after make his directorial debut with Layer Cake (2004), featuring Daniel Craig as the lead, and later achieve mainstream recognition like Ritchie with films such as Kick-Ass (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011), and Kingsman (2014, 2017).
On to the movies themselves, though. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (henceforth, Lock) and Snatch are so similar in terms of visual style, narrative structure, and tone as to be near remakes of one another. Their specific crime drama set-pieces (e.g. hit-jobs, heists, fisticuffs, shootouts, etc.), deadpan jokes, slapstick humor, and broad ensemble casts are distinguishable enough so as to not be repetitive, and together make for an entertaining double-feature, but to review each film separately would be near pointless. Both films borrow heavily from Tarantino’s intricate, nonlinear screenplays and interwoven subplots across numerous supporting characters. The use of extreme violence as physical humor is also a Tarantino callback, though just as much an English black comedy staple. Each film nearly collapses under the weight of its large ensemble cast and half dozen subplots, all of which are critical to each film’s respective conclusion; yet, their endings wrap everything together in their final moments for satisfying finales.
Speaking of those characters, no single castmember is terribly charismatic or fundamental to the overall story of Lock or Snatch; their specific goals may be, but their personalities, not so much — save for the lovable Jones, of course. I was surprised how laid back famous actors like Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Stephen Graham, Benicio del Toro, and Jason Statham were in these movies, juxtaposed against the intensity of supporting characters or villains like former boxer Lenny McLean, P. H. Moriarty, and Alan Ford. Most of the faces most audiences would recognize nowadays are blank-slate yet relatable vessels for the viewer to enter these dizzying, complicated underworlds of Cockney organized crime, while the few intimidating personalities are embodied by actors most people (especially those outside the United Kingdom) have never heard of. Again, though, Lock and Snatch are plot-driven movies rather than character-driven ones, so this lack of larger-than-life protagonists or heroic personalities is appropriate.
Substituting for both films’ lack of charismatic leads is cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones’ bonkers direction of photography, as well as editors’ Niven Howie and Jon Harris’ fast-paced editing. Caffeinated editing and whiplash cinematography may be out of place in most action films not directed by Paul Greengrass, but here in Ritchie’s crime sagas, this charismatic, unpredictable camerawork clarifies the relationship between each screenplay’s interwoven subplots. Besides stylizing character revelation, blood and gore, and chase sequences, Maurice-Jones, Howie, and Harris help situate the viewer to every character’s perspective in both time and place, and with maximum efficiency. Lock and Snatch cover enormous narrative ground across large casts, yet clock in at 106 and 102 minutes, respectively, all without feeling rushed or abbreviated in any way. Given how stylized and energetic these movies are, either story running for much longer would perhaps feel exhausting, but as they stand now, these films are finely tuned, perfectly edited, and wonderfully embellished crime dramas that don’t overstay their welcome.
Even sequences that feel calm boast a deceptive storytelling quality that maximizes suspense, like the opening of Snatch, which follows a series of bank security cameras from the perspective of a security guard, building lackadaisical tension before a heist-reveal. Compared to the modern incorporation of social media and mobile phone video in films like High Flying Bird (2019) or The Divines (2016), Ritchie’s filming of black-and-white digital camera feeds from the turn of the millennium feels infinitely more cinematic.
Word on the street is Guy Ritchie will return to his English crime drama roots with 2020’s The Gentleman, and I hope it is successful. The man’s career since his opening one-two punch of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch has been inconsistent at best, having been swallowed whole by the soul-crushing machine that the Hollywood studio system so often is. My initial attraction to Ritchie’s debut involved its connection to Layer Cake and Kingsman director, Matthew Vaughn, but after finally viewing the features that established Ritchie’s career, I am confident asserting these two complicated, over-the-top crime drama comedies are better than anything he or Vaughn have done since. Though current stars Jason Statham, Lennie James, and Brad Pitt are more side helpings than main course in each adventure (only the latter was a star at the time), everyone’s skills are well used to support a duo of wacky, charismatic, entertaining, and above all, cinematic crime sagas. A fine double-feature they make with the guys.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: With a plethora of violent slapstick, Tarantino-esque nonlinear storytelling, and working-class Cockney accents galore, there’s little not to like in both Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. They’re worth a watch if one has even a passing interest in crime dramas, and more so if one’s a fan of the black humor common in United Kingdom filmmaking.
—> RECOMMENDED, though watching either film while drunk may induce headaches due to Tim Maurice-Jones’ wild cinematography and Niven Howie and Jon Harris’ breathless editing.
? So, was Brad Pitt speaking in an “Irish Traveler accent” for his role in Snatch? Do Irish Travelers even have accents distinct from their respective countries of residence?