Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day Seventy-Two: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #170
Year: 1998
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Nick Moran and Jason Flemyng


For as long as there have been motion pictures, audiences have been interested in crime movies. Most people would condemn the actions of the characters in such films, but they're fascinated by their work. Inevitably, this interest led to a supersaturation of the market, and it's rare to find something truly innovative where cops, criminals, guns, drugs and money are involved. Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels doesn't exactly turn the genre on its head, but it offers a unique perspective into the motives and actions of criminals. Through sheer coincidence, the four lovable protagonists of the film wind up in the middle of a huge crime network. Four or five different parties want their heads, but no one knows who they are. Through just as much coincidence – and plenty of luck – everyone who is after them gets killed. None of this is because they're expert criminals. They aren't even criminals at all, really. They're just four kids trying to pay back a debt to a card sharp who cheated to beat them in a high stakes game of three card brag. They think they're doing something productive throughout much of the film, but it's the actions of everyone else that finally puts them in the clear.

The film is brought to life mostly by Ritchie's brash, Tarantino-goes-Cockney script and the incredibly English delivery by the cast. It's very easy to imagine Americanized versions of all of this movie's lines in Pulp Fiction, and the pace of the movie is kept at full tilt even when not much is happening thanks to the unrelenting one-liners and witty banter. The accents and vocabulary are difficult at times, and as an American, I probably only completely understood about 80% of what was being said, but even when I didn't know exactly what the characters were uttering, I knew it was awesome. Ritchie even comically acknowledges the difficulty of the dialects in the film by subtitling one character in plain English when he describes an incident that took place at the Samoan pub. It's this kind of innovation that made Guy Ritchie one of the most famous and critically acclaimed directors in England by the turn of the century – and the kind of innovation he desperately needs to find again before being labeled a creative burnout any more than he already has been.

To expound on the Tarantino point, it seems pretty obvious that Ritchie's early films were supposed to be England's answer to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. The prevailing atmosphere and directorial execution of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is way too similar to that of those movies for it to be a coincidence. And while Ritchie lacks some of the clever nods to past films, filmmakers and genres that Tarantino deftly puts into his flicks, he more than makes up for it in coolness. Maybe it's a cultural divide thing, but seeing these guys run through every swear word in the dictionary in those accents and smoking cigarettes all the time just oozes with awesomeness and rebellion. And as someone who's generally disinterested in crime movies, I found this one superb. See it.

The Good: Well, I put a spoiler alert at the beginning, so I won't hesitate to say that I loved the ending. The guys open their bag and find that their money is gone. In its place is a catalog of antique guns. They see the enormous value of the guns they just told their friend to dump in the Thames, and they immediately try to call him to stop him from throwing them in. Meanwhile, he's hanging over the bridge with his phone in his mouth trying to retrieve the guns from the ledge that he dropped them on. We get a freeze frame and credits roll. It's a perfect ending to a great movie.

The Bad: It was probably a little too derivative of Tarantino's first two features, but the fact that it's English makes it feel a lot more different than it really is.

The Skinny: #170 sounds about right to me. I'm really in an "agree with the list" rut right now. Oh well, I guess that's better than having to watch a bunch of movies that I hate.

No comments:

Post a Comment