“Now you see it, now you don’t!”
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro
Synopsis: Unscrupulous boxing promoters, violent bookmakers, a Russian gangster, incompetent amateur robbers, and supposedly Jewish jewelers fight to track down a priceless stolen diamond.
When Guy Ritchie’s London gangster flick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels burst into the movie-going public’s consciousness in 1998, it looked as though a major new talent had emerged in the form of Guy Ritchie. He was also the movie’s writer, so here was an all-rounder who could not only write a fresh and energetic screenplay packed with memorable characters and incidents, but also direct that script at a breathless, enthralling pace. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was unique, one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated. So what did Ritchie do next?
He remade it, and called it Snatch.
That’s not to say that Snatch isn’t a good movie. It is. It’s every bit as entertaining as its predecessor; it’s fast-moving, energetic, and its plot performs acrobatic somersaults in its determination to entertain. Either Ritchie, who again served as writer and director, was so paralysed by indecision about how to move forward, or he was attempting to outdo his first film. Whatever his reason for making Snatch, all he succeeded in doing was serving up more of the same dish. He certainly wrung every last drop of entertainment from the (identical) subject matter with these two movies — in fact he wrung the flannel dry, because one of the twists in Snatch (an attempt to sell goods to the person they were stolen from) is a direct lift from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. There’s nothing wrong with that sort of thing when an old idea is reprocessed but, as a writer, if you find yourself stealing from your previous work so soon, you don’t ask how much is left in the well, you wonder how much was there in the first place.
The plot is made up of two strands. One involves a bare-knuckle boxing promoter named Turkish (Jason Statham) and his sidekick Tommy (Stephen Graham) whose boxer Gorgeous George (former boxer and rugby union player Adam Fogarty) is put out of action by gypsy fighter Mickey (Brad Pitt) in a dispute over the purchase of a caravan. George was due to fight a boxer belonging to vicious gangster Brick Top (Alan Ford), who’s none too happy at having his plans disrupted. Desperate, Turkish and Tommy hire Mickey to take George’s place on the understanding that — on the orders of Brick Top — he’s to take a dive in the fourth. So, when Mickey KO’s Brick Top’s boy in the first round, Turkish and Sammy find themselves facing the prospect of being fed to Brick top’s notorious pigs.
The second strand involves the search for an 84 carat diamond stolen by Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro), who is kidnapped by Vinnie (Robbie Gee), Sol (Lennie James) and Tyrone (Ade), three villains employed by Uzbekistani gangster Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia) to retrieve the diamond for his client, Doug the Head (Mike Reid). Doug is working for Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina), an American hoodlum who, when the diamond goes missing, travels to London and hires hard man Bullet-Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) to help him find it.
To say there’s a lot of plot in Snatch is an understatement of epic proportions. Every change of scene, almost every conversation, introduces a new plot twist or development, which makes it tough to keep up with what’s going on. As with Ritchie’s first movie, the unruly, casually violent characters are strangely likeable despite their brutal behaviour, largely because the violence has a cartoonish quality – one character is beaten, shot numerous times, and run over but still keeps going. They all have colourful characters to match their colourful names, and it’s perhaps this dimension to Ritchie’s writing that makes Snatch a success despite its familiarity.
The cast of Snatch boasts a larger American quotient than Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which obviously lent it a transatlantic appeal which the first film lacked, and there’s no doubt the presence of Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro contributed to its success across the pond. Pitt, in particular, gives a memorable performance as Mickey, a gypsy whose mangled syntax is almost impossible to understand. And yet it’s largely the British cast members from the first movie who make the biggest impression. Statham exudes an inimitable coolness upon which he has built a solid action movie career; Vinnie Jones gives perhaps one of his best screen performances, and Alan Ford is frighteningly convincing as Brick Top, an uncompromisingly vicious, but slyly enjoyable nightmare of a man.
Somehow, Ritchie manages to tie everything together without confusing his audience, even though it might take them a while to get the story straight in their heads. He was in danger of being branded a one-trick pony after this one, and his follow-up, the ill-fated Swept Away (2002) starring his then-wife, Madonna, only seemed to confirm suspicions. Lately, though, his work on the Sherlock Holmes franchise seems to have shown that Ritchie is capable of succeeding in genres beyond the laddish gangster movie.
(Reviewed 18th June 2012)