It’s somewhat surprising that the primary flaw in Snatch, one of the more entertainingly inventive films in recent months, is its air of familiarity.
But this piece of stylish fluff will only reek of deja vu to the lucky few who caught Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, director Guy Ritchie’s incendiary debut film that turned heads at Sundance but didn’t otherwise grab a huge following.
That layered, labyrinthine crime comedy set among London’s lowlifes was a diverting, shamelessly fun experience. Ritchie has decided to walk in its tracks another time—and there’s still much to dig here, even if that sheen of discovery has faded.
With obvious and unapologetic debts to Tarantino and Elmore Leonard, among many others, Ritchie serves his mayhem and violence with a pretzeled plot and enough murderous, vaguely dimwitted rogues to choke a dog. He keeps things brisk, witty and always a little more brutal than you’d expect. If violence makes you laugh, you’ll find much to enjoy.
The nominal lead is Turkish (Jason Statham, one of the four lead lads in Lock, Stock), a boxing promoter who needs a new trailer. He doesn’t know anything about diamonds—which is the cue for Ritchie’s jump to the daring robbery of a Hasidic jewelry shop in Antwerp. The ringleader, Frankie Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro), comes away with an 84-karat diamond that looks a lot like the world’s biggest cubic zirconia, but hey. Once it’s known in London that Frankie has a big stone in his briefcase, a big huge mess ensues, with sharpies and badasses angling for their piece of the rock.
Ritchie’s characters are mostly self-conscious caricatures, with names like Doug the Head and Bullet Tooth Tony. One of Ritchie’s better creations here is Brick Top, a middle-aged-to-elderly crime boss who wears huge glasses and runs his massive empire like an angry college basketball coach. Alan Ford, a wonderful British actor who’s fairly obscure stateside, is a revelation as this aging tough guy who’s incredibly matter-of-fact about matters of pure evil.
There’s also a nice little role for Brad Pitt, who gets to take off his shirt again as One-Punch Mickey, the Irish gypsy who swindles Turkish out of a trailer but later fights for him as a bare-knuckle boxer. Pitt’s best performances appear to be those where he can beat the hell out of somebody while talking in a wacky accent. He did it in the long-forgotten Kalifornia, and he does it again here with an unintelligible brogue that keeps everyone in the film guessing.
There are plenty of fun performances that involve a few pithy lines and a lot of head-breaking. Former soccer player Vinnie Jones is showcased as another heavy, and Dennis Farina has another whiny part as an American who wants a piece of the action. Ritchie’s greatest strength is his ability to establish character with a few swift strokes; there’s a sameness to some of his hoods, but it’s surprisingly easy to remember who’s on which side and who wants who dead. That’s no small achievement with a cast this big.
Ritchie has fun with a few visual tricks—again sticking with much of the fabric he created in Lock, Stock—but he’s not an overtly showy director in the Michael Bay-David Fincher-McG school. His is a more European sensibility, with frenetic editing and frozen frames taking the place of most computer-aided wizardry. He’s after the same color-drained, ultra-macho look of Lock, Stock, and he gets it with a minimum of fuss.
In many ways, Ritchie has made the same film over again. It’s not an unfamiliar strategy for a new filmmaker; for instance, Robert Rodriguez remade El Mariachi with a $6 million budget and called it Desperado. But it’s more than just a shrewd way to avoid the sophomore slump. Snatch is entertaining enough and clever enough that it doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Even its sameness doesn’t carry a dulling comfort level. It’s still angry and slick, and it’s still fun.
The film won’t please everyone, simply because this style of picture is so accessible and intoxicating that everybody in the audience can’t help thinking what they would have done differently. You’d love to be the hip filmmaker responsible for something like Snatch, even if you had to marry Madonna to do it.
Well, then again, maybe there are only so many sacrifices a man can make for his art. Have you seen Madonna lately?
Snatch (R) HHH Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt and Vinnie Jones.