14 January 2001 | Shiva-11
Lock, Stock, and Many Smoking Barrels
The release of Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" in 1994 prompted a schism in the staid gangster movie genre: the standard hallmarks - serious characters, gunfights, intrigue and damsels in distress - were enhanced with snappy dialogue, and gallows humour. The biggest change however was the introduction of the mobius strip-style plot line, where the concept of time is no longer linear, instead constantly folding in upon itself, flitting between past, present and future that forces the viewer to pay close attention lest they miss some subtle detail. Inevitably, numerous copycat films emerged that tried to capitalize on Tarantino's success, but it wasn't until 1998 when Guy Ritchie, an unknown British director, took on the challenge that a successor was found. Now Ritchie is determined to prove that his first time out wasn't a fluke.
Turkish is a young man with an entrepreneurial bent, who, when he's not running his gambling operation, manages bareknuckle boxers. Through a business deal gone wrong, he becomes acquainted with one Mickey O'Neil, a mumbling manic motor-mouthed piker who also happens to be a one-punch marvel. Turkish persuades Mickey to join his stable of fighters, but soon discovers that Mickey has his own agenda, and gets Turkish in trouble with the gangsters who run the underground boxing circuit. Other characters that become involved in the drama include a four-fingered degenerate gambler/jewel thief, a vicious boxing promoter, a gang of inept robbers, a polite hitman, a crazed Russian gun runner, a group of Irish gypsies, a crooked New York jeweler and a pugnacious pet. The common thread binding them all is a perfect diamond the size of a peach pit. If you aren't confused yet, you soon will be.
"Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", Mr. Madonna's (Ritchie) first film, was shot on a small budget, with a no-name cast (except for football bad boy Vinnie Jones) and quickly became a rousing success at home and found receptive audiences abroad. While not a technically a sequel "Snatch" is stylistically very similar to "Lock, Stock
": Ritchie utilizes his trademark bombastic staccato sequences, and repeatedly bounces off on radical tangents to throw the viewer off balance. He did however opt for a decidedly darker satirical tone in this film, that may make some people uncomfortable (think "Very Bad Things"). What struck me as particularly daring was his decision to create a story with such a voluminous cast.
Ritchie faced a daunting task with this film: how, with roughly twenty principal characters, does one adequately flesh out each character, and not hopelessly confuse the audience? The feat was made doubly difficult, as several cast members are big name stars. Somehow Ritchie manages - each actor is full bodied, receives ample screen time, and no one character is the centerpiece. With so many talented actors, it is difficult to pick out one performance that stands out: Rade Serbedzija is hilarious as the mad Russian who blithely burns through each of his nine lives, as is Vinnie Jones' manic gentleman hitman. On the other end of the spectrum, is Alan Ford as Brick Top, the promoter with a penchant for pigs, who epitomizes cold-blooded viciousness. If forced to pick my favorite however, I would have to go with Brad Pitt
Pitt resurrects his trailer trash look from "Kalifornia" and adopts a nearly indecipherable brogue that sounds like my best friend's Uncle Wally on a bad day. As Mickey O'Neil, the hard drinking wily grifter and part-time pugilist, Pitt displays a wide range of emotions, demonstrating again that he is not only a star, but also a gifted character actor. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the dog that subtly stole every scene he appeared in.
While "Snatch" initially struggles to find its stride, and is very similar to Ritchie's earlier film, it is fresh and funny enough to make you forget any minor shortfalls and stand on its own.