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British Gangster Month: Snatch (2000)


Snatch is Guy Ritchie’s follow-up to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and you can definitely tell. It’s very much like that last film which is both its saving grace and its Achilles heel, resulting in a good but not great movie. But still one entertaining enough to seek out.
Boxing promoters Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham) convince a dangerous gangster called Brick Top (Alan Ford) to add their champion to the bets of his bookies. However that champion is injured and they’re forced to replace him with the man who injured him: an incomprehensible Irish gypsy (“pikey”) Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt) who may get them into further trouble with the mobster. Meanwhile the architect of a major heist in Antwerp Franky “Four Fingers” (Benicio del Toro) is delivering the prize diamond to Doug (Mike Reid) the British cousin of New York jeweller Avi (Denis Farino), but his gun-seller Boris “the Blade” (Rade Serbedzija) looks to steal it himself.
There are certainly similarities this film shares with Ritchie’s previous effort and while some are still fun and welcome, others feel pretty repetitive. The structure of the plot where there are two storylines that will inevitably merge by the end could have been reworked a little more creatively. And they don’t intersect as much as in the former film, but when they do, it can be pretty funny. That black comedy tone is very prominent in this film arguably more than the last. I attribute that mostly to the characters, but not entirely the ones the film intended. Another aspect of Lock, Stock that this film reprised were the comic relief henchmen. While it was fairly new and engaging in the previous film to see bumbling idiots involved to this level in the criminal world, the ones here don’t add anything new, and are unfortunately tired and unfunny and I think the film dedicated too much time to them. I would rather have seen more of the other characters who actually leave more of an impression than those in Lock, Stock.
There’s a return of many of Ritchie’s troupe from his last film including Statham, Ford, Vinnie Jones, and Jason Flemying, but they’re not all that interesting. I definitely prefer Statham in a supporting role. As the (arguable) lead he’s still got a coolness about him, but doesn’t do a whole lot and really isn’t that good of an actor. I can see why he was able to make the transition to action movies though, and maybe these traits work better there. If his storyline was mostly following him it would be pretty dull, so thank god for Stephen Graham. Graham who’s now best known for playing a much more infamous gangster Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire, makes the most of his character Tommy, being a much more successful comic relief and a nice contrast both in physicality and personality from Turkish. If I were seeing this film for the first time in 2000 Graham’s the one of the pair I’d want to see more of, and still do. Vinnie Jones stands out alright again due to his dominant physique and deadpan attitude (there’s a great scene where he and the idiots have a confrontation in a pub), but he’s not in it a whole lot and is generally just playing the same part he did in Lock, Stock not really giving him a chance to show any range. It’s unfortunate to say but in this British gangster film the performances that stand out best are the ones that aren’t British! It’s such a ridiculous idea to cast Brad Pitt as an Irish bare-knuckle boxer but it strangely works. It doesn’t feel like Pitt’s there entirely because of his name recognition and his performance is intentionally corny. Not once do you believe he’s really Irish but he plays it up so enthusiastically that you buy it in context. Dennis Farina is pretty fun too as Cousin Avi an American unused to the dirty work but determined to get his diamond. Through him we get some funny clashing of cultures with him demanding the English speak “English”, etc. possibly echoing the thoughts of some Americans watching the film. He’s also got a fantastic delivery on his last line! Rade Serbedzija is remarkably intense and entertaining as the insane Boris. And then there’s Benicio del Toro! Who ever thought they’d see del Toro enter a film dressed as a rabbi and starting a shoot-‘em-up. As Frankie “Four Fingers” he is hilarious with an out of nowhere accent, and a crippling gambling addiction. He’s not in the film a whole lot but he certainly makes it a lot better!
To Guy Ritchie’s credit he distances the style of this film from Lock, Stock at least in a few important areas. While this is still a fast-paced film with some energized action and quick cuts, Ritchie makes a few new choices in terms of his use of shots and cinematography. There are a few times we come into a scene through a fast revolving shot from above, for instance. The editing is also very tight which especially works to the comedy and dialogue. The opening features a montage of all the characters with their names (you’re guaranteed to forget at least a few of them) and splattered backgrounds which sets the tone for the film, even if it goes a little long. And it’s a way to save on a narrator having to introduce each character as they show up (though Statham still does that to a fair degree).  We also see the start of one of Guy Ritchie’s tropes that he has since frequently used in Sherlock Holmes and especially The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; that being through slightly non-linear storytelling to show a different perspective on a seemingly inconsequential action or development that gives it much greater significance. In short, the heist movie cop out, but not a cop out. And Ritchie’s pretty good at playing them out, and unlike some of his later films, only plays it an appropriate amount of times here.
Snatch is not quite the British gangster tour de force that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was, faltering on some repetitive tricks, story devices, and character types. But it does have some fun action, good dark humour, a still engaging directing style, and very memorable characters making for a quintessentially British and by and large enjoyable gangster flick.

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