UK 2000
dir. & scr. Guy Ritchie
cin. Tim Maurice-Jones
stars Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Stephen Graham
102 minutes

Some words of advice if you’re planning to see Snatch. 1) Don’t go on your own. 2) Don’t go sober if you can help it. And, most importantly, 3) Don’t make my mistake and see it less 24 hours after watching The Long Good Friday – or any other gangster film made for and by adults. The more closely you follow these bits of advice, the better time you’ll have – if you can have a few beers beforehand and watch it in a crowded cinema surrounded by your similarly boozed-up pals, Snatch might even seem like a bit of a classic. You could easily find yourself swept along on its surging energy, in-your-face visuals, and humour, glossing over the uncomfortable truth that Guy Ritchie has taken the easiest, most chicken-shit option after the success of his debut, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, delivering what is, in effect, the same movie all over again.

This isn’t a film to be analysed, it’s made to be enjoyed, and on those terms it’s fine. Trouble is, as soon as the film finishes – and, to be fair, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and it does go out with a smile-inducing flourish – the flaws may start to loom very large. Ritchie has a specific target audience in mind, probably young men up to maybe 25 or 30. But I suspect that the film will go down best with a rather different demographic: schoolboys of between 10 and 12. This film could easily succeed the likes of Blade as a hot playground video to be traded and copied.

I pick the age of 12 for one principal reason – because the film is so remarkably lacking in sex of any kind. Anybody lured into the cinema by the title is in for a severe disappointment – the only titillation on view is provided by a brief shot of a deck of ‘saucy’ playing cards. Benicio Del Toro’s character Frankie Four Fingers would be able to count the number of speaking female parts with ease, and these are almost all Family and therefore Off Limits. Sex is not just never seen, it’s never talked about – apart from joshing all-lads-together references to buggery. At times we seem to be have stumbled into a Jean Genet, all-male, all-criminal world, though with a Carry On sense of British fun.

And there’s no doubt we are in fantasy-land here. The film depicts a kaleidoscope of East End gangsters – not to mention dangerous wide-boys from New York, Moscow, and God knows where else – without even the barest mention of drugs. Plenty of violence, plenty of guns, plenty of bare-knuckle boxing and fighting pitbulls, but narcotics, like sex, are taboo. And, despite the occasional very noticeable broad-daylight bloodbath or shoot-em-up, no police – or at least, not until the final reel. I kept being reminded of Scott Meek’s comment about Dario Argento’s Suspiria:

‘The thrills and spills are so classy and fast that the movie becomes in effect

what horror movies seemed like when you were too young to get into see them.’

Switch ‘horror’ for ‘gangster’, then factor in that you no longer need to ‘get into’ cinemas to see these pictures, and you’re getting a fair approximation of what Snatch is really all about – a phoney, pre-adolescent landscape Ritchie has so energetically brought to the screen.

But Ritchie’s energy – which is undeniable – has its downside. You can imagine him locked away in the editing suite having a raucous time splicing together his fancy sequences, but it’s less easy to picture him in the rather un-rock-n-roll stance of sitting hunched over a keyboard agonising over the script. Snatch is at once underdeveloped and over-written – there’s so much going on, involving so many different groups of people, more or less all at the same time, that Ritchie presumably hopes we won’t notice how much he’s mistaken chaos for complexity. There are good things in the script, but they aren’t followed through: it’s typical that the film gives plenty of welcome screen time to the disarming and convincing Tyrone (played by an actor billed only as Ade) only to lose interest in him as the action takes off. Del Toro, whose recurring penchant for vocal tricks in his films is reaching Malkovich levels, is similarly underemployed as the film progresses.

There’s not much point tracing the contortions of the various plots, but in broad outline we follow two youngish Cockneys on the peripheries of gangland – Turkish (a very solid Statham) and Tommy (Graham) – as they try to set up a bareknuckle boxing match, only to get entangled in some bigger-league gangsters’ quest for a massive diamond stolen (or maybe snatch’d, to use the film’s US title) by Four Fingers. The lads end up in cahoots with an Irish boxer (Pitt) who’s as incomprehensible as he is unbeatable.

The Pitt character – treated as a walking one-note gypsy joke that starts off dubious enough and rapidly wears thin – is the focus of Ritchie’s most damaging mis-step. When Pitt wins a fight he should have thrown, the big-boss gangster (scary, seedy Alan Ford, whose thick glasses make him look as though he’s using somebody else’s eyes) exacts a drastic reprisal on the boxer’s next of kin – so drastic, in fact, that the whole film is knocked out of kilter, and it never quite recovers. Ritchie tries valiantly to get back to fantasy-crime-land, but it doesn’t wash, it’s too late to retrace those steps, and the final reel that rings very hollow indeed.

It’s fitting that Snatch pivots on such a big diamond – because the film itself is all shiny surfaces and endless reflections, without ever really adding up to anything at all. But, as with Lock Stock, Ritchie’s Smirnoff-advert brand of visual verve is sufficient it masks his shortcomings in other departments. His style is what I’d call kitchen sink – not in terms of 60s realism, but because he throws everything but the kitchen sink at the screen. A lot of it doesn’t work, a lot of it does, and occasionally he hits a bullseye: the numerous boxing-ring scenes are minor triumphs. There’s a quick fade-to-black early on as a victorious Pitt turns away from the camera to the strains of The Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’ and, much later, an almost Matrix-like shot of Pitt being knocked flying horizontal into black depths of unconsciousness. The ring scenes also provide an effective showcase for real-life UK heavyweight champion Scott Welch – he makes such a strong visual impression as Pitt’s main opponent it’s all the more frustrating that this articulate fighter is given no lines to speak.

That comment does not apply, sadly, to Vinnie Jones, one of the numerous returning faces from Lock, Stock. Since then he’s graced the big screen in this year’s Gone In Sixty Seconds, and we are presumably supposed to take the scene in which Jones is instructed to slice open a dog (to retrieve a valuable item) as a nod to a virtually identical moment from the Nic Cage film – it’s too close a match to be coincidence. Though his role is basically a nudge-nudge cameo, he has many more lines in Snatch than he had in Gone In Sixty Seconds, but they’re the same kind of lines – we’re expected to be surprised that this big lug comes out with big words. The effect is doubly unfortunate – there’s a distinct sense of the “actor” being simultaneously indulged and patronised by his director-pal, while his verbosity (a trait shared by many of his on-screen associates) just comes over as sub-sub-Tarantino.

That Tarantino debt is clear enough, and it should provide Ritchie with some valuable lessons, if he can calm down enough to absorb them and start growing up. But criticising this director is as easy and pointless and hopeless as critiquing a clever little puppy who’s dying to show off all his delightful tricks, one after another, preferably all at the same time. Mr Blond knew the type: this is one little doggy who is perfectly happy to bark all day – and all night as well, if that’s what he thinks ‘his’ audience wants.

by Neil Young
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