From Alan Ford

A Guy Ritchie Retrospective: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. 1998. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh, Nicholas Rowe, Vinnie Jones, Lenny McLean, Peter McNicholl, P.H. Moriarty, Frank Harper, Ronnie Fox, Stephen Marcus, Vas Blackwood, Alan Ford, & Sting. Summit Entertainment/The Steve Tisch Company/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 107 minutes.
Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
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There’s always an obvious Tarantino comparison that comes along each time Guy Ritchie’s earliest movies are brought up, even some of the others, too. Well I’ve talked about that before in my retrospective on Snatch. Perhaps most out of anywhere, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels rings close to the spirit of Tarantino. However, there’s a vast difference in American and British humour. That’s first off. Full stop, though, Ritchie is a different writer. They each have their own quirkiness, no doubt. British jokes are decidedly British, and to me Ritchie is funnier. Tarantino is a little deeper in some of the dialogue underneath his funny writing. Ritchie is downright a crack up, alongside all the crime that’s also as enjoyable. He’s more hilarious than his supposed American counterpart. They have the same capacity for violence. Once more I posit this – Ritchie is far more Martin Scorsese influenced than anyone else. He’s a combination of those two big influences while continuing true to his own roots. He tells stories that are undeniably British in an American film influenced fashion. Because of that storytelling, because of the British humour with which I identify most (on account of being Canadian, I imagine), much as I love Tarantino I almost prefer Ritchie’s first two feature films over the former and his first couple. Not knocking him, I’m a massive fan of Quentin in all areas. Overall I’m a bigger fan of his than I am of Ritchie, if I had to pick. However, it’s hard for me to not love both Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels most. That’s all personal.
For me, this movie is another case for how far quirky writing can go without stepping over the line and becoming silly. Ritchie’s characters here are rich in a short span of time. Then we get quite a bit of crime to add the flair, comedy in a whopping dose. Along with everything else, Ritchie’s got wonderful directorial sensibilities. His choices are fun, fresh, they move things along with nice pacing. Overall, this is a solid modern masterpiece of British cinema. Don’t accept any opinion less.
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One of the biggest ways to tell the difference between Ritchie and Tarantino is evident when Bacon (Jason Statham) and the boys go to the Samoan Pub. Almost as if spitting right at the Kahuna Burger and its quirkiness, Ritchie’s characters are normal, simple types of blokes. They just want a pint. Not some Samoan or Hawaiian hipster-type bullshit. There’s an awesome quality to Tarantino and his writing, which I do enjoy myself. There’s an equally awesome quality to the fact Ritchie sort of says “Sure there’s influence but I can also point out some needless quirk.” The characters in Tarantino movies are sometimes a bit too much written with the end of being singular by way of idiosyncrasy in mind. Now, that’s not to say characters should be alike, not at all. They need to be different, obviously. Yet at a certain point you’re just filling up too much space without really doing anything.
Using a setting in the middle to lower class underbelly of Britain, these simple guys with big ideas, it’s not even a direct way of trying to be different. That’s just how I see it. But what Ritchie does in actuality is present a life of crime that we don’t see in certain other comedy-crime combinations. Yes, we often see things go wrong in the underground world of professional crime: hitmen, gangsters, high class criminals, so on. Such is the case in a few Tarantino flicks. What Ritchie does in his first two features is present a world of men on the fringe, near the criminal world while not completely a part of it. It’s clueless guys that are incredibly small-time criminals, doing the measliest, most petty-type jobs in order to get themselves through the week. Then through a multi-linear plot these dopey, though kind-hearted fellas come face to face with big time crime, big time criminals, and tougher choices than they’ve ever had to make. Somehow the stakes are higher than films where the people are all professionals and murder’s nearly routine, able to be cleaned up on a whim. In opposition, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels gets messy.
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Vinnie Jones is a talented man. Not only does he have the enormous, intimidating physicality required of a tough guy actor (and a footballer as once he was), he’s spectacular as Big Chris. Supposedly, this character is based on Dave Courtney – a guy who claims to have been involved with all sorts of mad gangster shit. Either way, Jones uses his own natural bad ass-ness. Then there’s also the fact he was released from jail the first day he was in for filming, after getting locked up for beating on his neighbour. Amazing! Regardless of any true life experience he’s capable, which he proves more than once throughout the length of his filmography as an actor. Big Chris is funny, frightening. He’s a dad; a good one, a bad one. It’s a complex and overall laugh-inducing character from start to finish. Well written. Most of all, well performed. Each time I see this Jones gets me in stitches, being hard and at the same time disciplining his son, making sure others don’t swear around him. What a god damn laugh.
On top of his talent there are a bunch of others. Even Sting turns out a nice little performance. The Hardest Man in Britain, Mr. Lenny McLean, plays Barry the Baptist right before he passed away, and put in one hell of a performance; both makes you laugh and tremble in equal measure, similar to Jones. Jason Statham proves here he’s great when working with Ritchie’s writing, revving up his talent for the follow-up, Snatch., where he again proves the same thing. In truth, the entire ensemble cast carries the weight, even the more minor players. Each role is handled well enough to keep things funny, fast, and at just about every last turn unexpected.
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Ritchie started out his feature film career with a bang. The comparisons to other artists are inevitable. Though, as I said a bunch of times already and before this review, Scorsese is the director I see as Ritchie’s largest influence. Either way, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a solid slice of crime comedy in its own skin. There’s plenty to enjoy, from Vinnie Jones to Statham in fine form, down to Ritchie as a director and his high energy, frenetic, music-filled banquet of style. As you watch these hapless criminals navigate a world completely foreign to the small time one in which they usually roll, the plots all come together to make for a thrilling, at times hilarious finale. I’m always inclined to love this most out of all the similarly-styled crime movies in the 1990s. No matter what. The style and its flair, the dialogue, the characters each given their own time to shine. Every last inch is a damn fine good time.

A Guy Ritchie Retrospective: Snatch

Snatch. 2000. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Ford, Mike Reid, Robbie Gee, Lennie James, Ewen Bremner, Jason Flemyng, Ade, William Beck, & Andy Beckwith. Columbia Pictures Corporation/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 104 minutes.
Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
POSTER It’s been at least 9 years now since I’ve watched Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. A one of a kind film. Except not really. Only in the sense of being set apart from other movies, as Ritchie writes stories that all seem to revolve around the same seedy criminal underbelly of London and the surrounding areas. There are some who say Ritchie is too much like Quentin Tarantino. To them I say it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they each tell tales set in the crime world, they each have a pulpy style, but they couldn’t be more different. Tarantino has this almost classic sensibility that translates into his own brand of filmmaking. Likewise, Ritchie has his own brand it’s just entirely another kind of exciting. And as much as I love Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, as well as his later work, Snatch. is always going to be the best example of his directing.
Weaving together a number of stands, Ritchie brings out an elaborate crime plot that encompasses a bunch of classic British humour, odd characters, and best of all everything seems to hinge on that nasty old bitch named Irony and a bastard named Fate. The pacing of the script keeps things interesting and the way Ritchie moves around with his style as director constantly holds the viewer’s attention.
Personally, I’m not a huge comedy fan. Not because I don’t like to laugh, in fact the opposite; I’m always laughing. There’s just never many films that speak to my fucked up, weird sense of humour. Somehow, Ritchie does. Perhaps it’s the relation Canadians have to British movies and television, and that’s why I enjoy this sort of comedy. Or maybe Ritchie and his wild writing appeals to me. In that sense, he and Tarantino are definitely similar. Either way, Snatch. is in a league all of its own.
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The dialogue throughout is downright amazing. Part of that is because I love the British accent and I feel like Ritchie uses this to his advantage. All around, though, it’s pitch perfect. It’s not even quirky, it feels so real. Love every last bit that comes out of Turkish (Jason Statham). Makes me sort of sad that Statham didn’t keep doing these types of movies, not that he has to do one thing forever – which he kind of does now anyway – I just love his comedic timing, as if Ritchie writes specifically for his talents. There are too many excellent scenes. Lots of actors with comedic timing for days, not just Statham. Brad Pitt does a fantastic bit of work as the gypsy bare knuckle boxer and there are times he has me in stitches, such as the quick “dags” exchange with Tommy (Stephen Graham). Together, Lennie James and Robbie Gee as Sol and Vinny respectively work wonders as a pair – their bits in the car with Tyrone (Ade) honestly fucking slay me. Finally, Alan Ford makes Brick Top into both a horrific British gangster, and also one of the most hilarious criminals with his tendency to talk down to everybody and those massive frames that make his eyes look like an angry fish. On paper, Snatch. is good enough. With this sort of cast the words are in more than capable hands.
The best of all? Vinnie Jones. His character here is even better than his previous one in Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. He nails it, right on the nose. He’s another one whose presence is imposing, in part due to his massive size. But also his acting is intense. Aside from that Jones injects a generous dose of laughter in amongst his scary delivery.
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If anything I’d compare Ritchie to Martin Scorsese. For many reasons. One is their use of music. Tarantino has his own thing, but Scorsese and Ritchie have a highly similar sense of how they use music. They use rock and popular music, though there’s less of an ironic or iconoclastic sense in the way Quentin often uses a soundtrack (think: Reservoir Dogs ear cutting scene to Stealers Wheel). Here, it’s like a part of the chaos, playing another role like how Scorsese often uses The Rolling Stones (among other bands and songs). For instance, there’s such a fitting, beautiful quality to the sequence when George gets knocked out by Mickey O’Neil (Pitt) and “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers plays. Then just the natural feel of some of the other songs works incredibly with so many of the various scenes.
Aside from Ritchie’s similarities to Scorsese in music, he also gets some influence for his frenetic sequences from the master. This is especially useful because of the large ensemble cast. With all the threads in the plot, Ritchie keeps things rolling with a steady pace. These chaotic moments help move the plot along and you never feel as if the movie drags. The big portions of what we need to know, as in the fine details, come in between the major sequences. After which we’re thrown into stylized segments where Ritchie uses more of the soundtrack to push the film’s energy. There’s one particular moment I love where we cut back and forth between Brick Top’s boys getting Tyrone and two wild dogs chasing a hare; the parallel is poignant, and the song on top makes it all feel lively. A major difference where Ritchie diverges from one of his obvious biggest influences is in the way he uses visual storytelling as opposed to narration. Of course Scorsese doesn’t always use a narrator. However, his popular crime stories which likely influenced Ritchie – GoodfellasCasino – relied quite a bit on a strong narrator. Instead of telling bits of the story through narration, Ritchie opts for a little bit. Then through other scenes he instead shows us what a narrator would only give you through exposition.
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The comedy and the crime comes in equal amounts throughout. Ritchie loves to show another side of crime that we don’t always see in stuff from someone like Scorsese. There are the good criminals who know what they’re doing. Then there’s the lot like these fellas. Most of whom can’t see far enough ahead of themselves to make sure they don’t fuck all their own plans up. Even Brick Top, in all his gangster wisdom, relies on a gypsy bare knuckle boxer to get the job done. Witnessing the constant, consistent ineptitude of many of these characters is spot on comedy.
Everything comes together on its own in the script. Yet the scene just before the final half hour begins shows us perfectly how fate brings everything to a central focus. As the three different cars drive, we see the one way it unfolds through all three perspectives, and it’s just so well written that I had to watch it again a couple times. May even be the best scene of the entire film, but that’s a hard choice to make.
In all, even after almost a decade of having not seen it, Snatch. is a modern masterpiece of crime cinema. Not only does it have the chops of an excellent crime film, the comedy makes every last inch worth it even more. The cast continually impresses from one scene to the next and Ritchie’s writing only gives them dialogue to chew on endlessly. His direction stylizes the film. Although it never glamorizes crime. The opposite, really. And with his stylish qualities Ritchie makes a riotous script leap off the page, grab you, keep you glued. By the finale, Snatch. further opts to get a little serious before cluing things up. So there’s an element of everything, from crime to drama to comedy to thriller. Point is, Ritchie is a versatile director even if he prefers telling stories about the British criminal underworld. Much as I enjoy the rest of his filmography recently, these are always the types of movies I love to see him making. This is a slice of film heaven I won’t ever forget, one that never ceases to make me laugh.