If I throw a dog a bone, I don’t wanna know if it tastes good or not.
Unsanctioned bare-knuckle boxing and diamond thievery. You wouldn’t think the two would go together, but that they do in Snatch. It is the second feature film written and directed by Brit Guy Ritchie, whose feature film debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, is probably the only thing with a pulse to be exported from Merry Olde England in the last five years.
As a prelude to this review, allow me to quote from an interview with Guy Ritchie circa 1998, after Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels opened in the U.K. but several months before its U.S. opening: “The success of Lock, Stock allowed Ritchie to sign a deal with Sony without the studio reading the script. His next project, currently in development, is Diamonds, starring Vinnie Jones as a pair of twins. ‘It’s in the same sort of milieu. It’s about dogfights, bare knuckle fights, diamond dealing, car stealing, and gypsies.'” One can assume that that film is now Snatch.
It’s not easy to sum up a plot like Snatch in a tidy little package. Two main plot threads intertwine with each other. The one deals with boxing promoter Turkish (Jason Statham) working in the seedy world of unsanctioned, illegal bare-knuckle boxing. He has a problem. He’s committed to a fight with bookie and all-around bad dude Brick Top (Alan Ford), except his boxer had a run-in with gypsy punk Mickey (Brad Pitt) and is in the hospital. So, he hires Mickey to fight. The only thing is, the fight is supposed to be fixed so Mickey takes a fall in the fourth round…except Mickey knocks the guy out ten seconds into the bout. Another fight is arranged, same stipulations, only with more on the line…the lives of Mickey’s family, not to mention Turkish’s life as well. The other story involves an 86-carat diamond. A Jewish thief named Franky Four-Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) steals the stone, and his Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina) from America is supposed to retrieve it. However, a Russian crook named Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia) is working both sides and hires a couple of bumbling hoods, Vinnie and Sol (Robbie Gee and Lenny James) to swipe it from Franky. This is one movie where I can state the following and truly have it be an understatement: mayhem ensues.
I absolutely adore Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Of all the movies in my collection, I dare say it’s the one that I’ve watched most often. I love its madcap pace, the chutzpah of Guy Ritchie’s excessive filmmaking style, the witty characters, and the tightly wound and infinitely layered plot. Some directors use filmmaking gimmicks like wacky angles, differing film stocks, and fast or slow motion as just that: gimmicks. They use them as a replacement for substance. In Lock, Stock, the gimmicks are all a part of the story, and by god, they make it a unique film experience. I’m a sucker for directors who make fun, quirky movies with visual flair. It’s why my favorite director is Tim Burton, and why I love the films of directors like the Coen Brothers or Steven Soderbergh or David Fincher.
Lock, Stock has been compared to Pulp Fiction, and in some ways the comparison is apt. Both movies could be called revisionist crime movies. Both are violent, but violent with a sense of humor; compare the scene in Pulp Fiction wherein Marvin is shot in the face in the back seat of the car to the scene in Lock, Stock wherein the stoned girl on the couch wakes up in the middle of a gunfight, grabs a mondo machine gun, and proceeds to lay waste to a roomful of robbers. Structurally, Guy Ritchie borrowed the nonlinear plot construction that Quentin Tarantino popularized in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Both Lock, Stock and Pulp Fiction were made by young writer/directors just getting started in the biz, though Tarantino at that point already had the aforementioned Reservoir Dogs under his belt and was something of a cult phenomenon. Ritchie and Tarantino both have shown little or no interest in working in the Hollywood system, despite that both of them were involved with females of the highest profiles — Tarantino dated Mira Sorvino for a spell while she was still in the limelight, and Ritchie of course is married to a singer/actress named Madonna, who you’ve probably never heard of. (And that will be the only time for the duration of this review that I mention her name.) Ah, but enough with the comparisons, and enough with the director’s other movie, but that does lead me to Snatch.
At its release, Snatch was compared to Lock, Stock. After all, they’re from the same director, feature several of the same actors, and have very similar plots and filming styles. In those ways, they’re similar, but in no way is Snatch a continuation of Lock, Stock or are the movies alike other than in the superficial ways I’ve already noted. Hmm. This is the point in a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Tom realizes, quite literally, that he’s painted himself into a corner. I’m not going to present any evidence to back up my spurious claims of uniqueness, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Whew. Weaseled out of that one, I did.
I could talk about Guy Ritchie’s distinctive filmmaking style all day long, but that would doubtless become wearying for both of us. How about the actors, then? There are four actors that Ritchie’s two films have in common: Jason Flemyng, Alan Ford, Vinnie Jones, and Jason Statham. Statham’s Turkish is similar to his Bacon in Lock, Stock, but there’s no shame in that — he came right off the street as a hustler to act in Lock, Stock, and now he’s shown up in Turn It Up and will be seen in John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars and the Jet Li flick The One. Alan Ford was the narrator of Lock, Stock but didn’t actually have many scenes in the film. Brick Top is one of the baddest dudes in recent memory — unflinching, brutal, and merciless. Vinnie Jones’s Bullet Tooth Tony is very similar to Big Chris in Lock, Stock, but he gets more lines and more opportunities to show that the soccer star can actually act. According to the commentary track, Jason Flemyng only came on the set to take some photographs, and wound up talking himself into the movie.
Rather unexpectedly for a $3.6 million budgeted picture, three Hollywood stars show up in Snatch, one a highly visible character actor, one the golden boy of the minute, and one a certifiable A-list movie star. Dennis Farina seems tailor-made for roles like Cousin Avi. For an ex-cop, he seems equally at home in films on either side of the badge. Benicio Del Toro is definitely an “in” actor right now after his amazing performance in Traffic. Unfortunately, Franky Four Fingers is more a catalyst for the plot than an actual character, and you don’t get to see much of Del Toro. Brad Pitt, on the other hand, steals every scene he’s in. I really have to hand it to Pitt for taking this role. He may be able to command $20 million per picture, but he did Snatch for next to nothing to be able to work with Ritchie. Much has been said of Mickey’s unintelligible “pikey” accent, so I don’t really feel the need to discuss it. It’s quite enough to say that I don’t know if I’ve seen Pitt have this much fun with a role since Thelma and Louise.
Columbia used to be one of the most dependable DVD studios, but lately they’ve been upstaged by…well, by just about everyone except Paramount and MGM. With Snatch, they’ve reclaimed a spot among the great DVD studios with a keen two-disc set. To start, the film is presented in both 1.85:1 anamorphic and open matte full frame. The widescreen transfer is very close to flawless. I noticed only one or two dust speckles on the negative, but moiré shimmering could be seen on some of the finer clothing patterns (then again, on a higher resolution display, that may not be a problem; it’s not going to figure into my scoring). The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is as aggressive as the film itself. The rear channels are used frequently for directional effects, atmospheric effects, and for the funky soundtrack (a mix of old R&B, jazz, and techno).
Extras are a little sparse when compared to the standard setting two-disc sets like Superman or Fight Club, but it’s quality that counts, not quantity, and the quality here is excellent. On the first disc, you get a commentary track and a feature called “Stealing Stones.” The commentary features Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn. You know what sort of track you’re in for when, during the opening credits sequence, the two start arguing over how a particular scene was edited. It’s entertaining to listen to the two bicker throughout the entire film, breaking occasionally to inform us that the “men in suits” have come in to the room to tell them to talk about something else. Lest you think the track is only fluff, they do have quite a few anecdotes to share about the film; I found the ones about the unruly dog to be the most humorous, especially how they, erm, motivated him during a certain scene in the film. “Stealing Stones” harkens back to the “Follow the White Rabbit” feature of The Matrix. When activated, diamond icons appear during the film, and you can press the enter key on your remote to watch deleted scenes that would have fit in that spot. A very nice touch. Oh, and one of the available subtitles options is “Pikey,” which gives you subtitles whenever Brad Pitt’s character talks. It may ruin the mystique of the movie to use them the first time out, but after that, they’re invaluable.
On the second disc, there’s a making-of featurette, storyboard comparisons, deleted scenes (the same batch available with the “Stealing Stones” option on the first disc), a photo slideshow, plus TV spots and trailers. The making-of featurette is about 23 minutes long. You won’t necessarily learn a lot during it, but it’s a nice look at the fun they had making the film and show the camaraderie between the director and his actors. There are three storyboard to scene comparisons, and they give the option to either watch side-by-side comparisons or the storyboards by themselves. Surprisingly, they do not utilize the multi-angle feature. The storyboards themselves are a bit repetitive, and make it rather obvious that Ritchie makes most of the style up on set or in the editing process. There are three 30-second U.S. TV spots, and they do exactly what I hate about film ads: they spoil key parts of the film. The trailer gallery includes the U.S. theatrical trailer, a U.K. teaser, and a spate of trailers (of varying quality and some of dubious connection to Snatch) for other Columbia titles.
If you like action and/or British “humour,” especially in combination, or if you liked Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you’re going to dig Snatch. It would be worth buying for the movie alone, but the extra goodies are like the diamond hidden in the dog’s stomach. For $27.95, it’s even a decent bargain.