19 February 2003 | doktor d
The essence of late 90's cinema -- hip, highly stylized, VISUAL
Guy Ritchie's hip, highly stylized 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' is a truly remarkable film, not only for its appropriately pyrotechnic camera work, but also for its seemingly flawless, puzzle-perfect script/screenplay. While the picture's main focus is on a group of lads who invest money in a high-stakes, rigged card game and lose, the broader story concerns approximately eight different groups of criminals whose paths cross (more> than once, in some cases) during various illegal pursuits: money, guns, drugs, even revenge. The film is quite violent, both on and off screen, but it's also uniformly humorous throughout. It's important to note that the four central characters (a cook, a card sharp, and a couple of guys who sell "discounted" items) are interested only in acquiring the money to pay off their enormous debt; they kill no one. The same applies to the laid-back college boys who "grow copious amounts of ganja".
The cast is comprised of mostly young, veteran, male actors. In fact, the only female in the film doesn't even speak, though she handles a machine gun fairly well. Sting appears briefly in several scenes as a bar-owning father figure. While his secondary performance is solid, as usual, it is also unmemorable. The soundtrack is first-rate, from the 60's hits of James Brown to the contemporary beats of London's underground. The groovy, pulsating music and lyrics are often succinctly synchronized with the action and dialogue in the film, creating a theatrical rhythm that is fairly uncommon in cinema (from any period).
Critics and audiences over the years have often dismissed stylized camera work as pretentious and unnecessary, stating that it detracts from the story, bogs it down, or pads it; however, the film medium has the luxury of actually "displaying" a story for its audience, unlike the written word alone. It's what the medium is all about -- it's VISUAL. Hence, one of the reasons a filmmaker chooses such visual displays is to "brand" his or her work, in the same way as writers like Cummings, Hemingway or Joyce did with their medium. It's hard to imagine a cinema without Hitchcock, Kubrick, or Scorsese to represent it. To this end, Ritchie has taken his first step in establishing his own brand. His energetic, ultra-contemporary camera work incorporates (through a fresh perspective) such devices as slow motion, fast motion, and freeze-frame coupled with narration. It is at times reminiscent of (and actually expands upon) Martin Scorsese's patented visual stylistics and camera movements, like those found in 'Mean Streets' and 'Goodfellas'. But the similarities with Scorsese's work end there.
Critics' endless comparisons of Ritchie's film with the works of Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle's 'Trainspotting' stand mostly unwarranted, as these comparisons take away from the inventiveness and originality of 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'. Ritchie's film is a much more involved, complex, layered work than the aforementioned comparisons. While Tarantino's films are very strong on dialogue, screenplay, and editing, they often lack creative camera work and direction. Boyle's 'Trainspotting' does have a resembling "feel" to 'LS&TSB', but aside from its Great Britain origins, there really is no need for comparison. 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' is essential viewing.