Screenplay : Guy Ritchie
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Benicio Del Toro (Franky Four Fingers), Dennis Farina (Cousin Avi), Vinnie Jones (Bullet Tooth Tony), Brad Pitt (Mickey O'Neil), Rade Serbedzija (Boris The Blade), Jason Statham (Turkish), Alan Ford (Brick Top), Mike Reid (Doug The Head), Robbie Gee (Vinny), Stephen Graham (Tommy)
In Snatch, British writer/director Guy Ritchie follows up his successful independent crime caper Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) with more of the same: a story of comedic criminals who get in way over their heads brought to bombastic life with fast-cut editing, a funky soundtrack, and relentless energy. While Ritchie had worked with mostly unknowns in his debut feature, in Snatch he works with an eclectic cast of well-known British and American actors and sets them in the middle of a wild, convoluted plot that rushes forward with a manic energy.
The problem with Snatch is that it feels too much like an empty exercise in style. The director Ritchie is most commonly compared to is Quentin Tarantino, but Snatch has none of the gaudy brilliance of Tarantino's sophomore film, Pulp Fiction (1994). Ritchie is obviously emulating Tarantino's progression by consciously expanding his palette, adding characters and situations and trying to tie them together in a world of bizarre fate. Ritchie's plotting is clever and his dialogue is quick and witty and sometimes very funny, but the whole film feels like nothing more than an exercise in postmodern coolness. It doesn't have a soul.
Of course, that doesn't preclude enjoyment. Quite the contrary, Snatch is an entertaining yarn well-told, and even if Ritchie's sometimes overblown stylistic flourishes, including sudden freeze-frames, quirky dissolves, and whooshing sound effects whenever title cards rush on and off the screen, become a bit tiresome, they certainly help keep your attention, even when it's hard to tell exactly what's going on.
Snatch features more than a dozen major characters, but the link among all of them is an 84-karat diamond that is constantly changing hands throughout the streets of London, at one point winding up in the digestive system of a small dog. The story is narrated by Turkish (Jason Statham), a small-time unlicensed boxing promoter who, along with his partner, Tommy (Stephen Graham), becomes unwittingly involved in the diamond fiasco.
To describe the plot itself would be a futile exercise in excess verbiage; Ritchie seems to have designed the narrative with the intent to defy simple plot summary. Suffice it to say that the story somehow involves a vicious British gangster named Brick Top (Alan Ford), a Russian arms trader named Boris the Blade (Rade Serbedzija), an American gangster (Dennis Farina), a robber with a gambling problem (Benicio Del Toro), a hitman who is literally invincible (Vinnie Jones), a trio of the most inept robbers you're likely to see, and an Irish gypsy bare-knuckle boxer named Mickey (Brad Pitt), whose bizarre accent and rapid mumble render just about everything he says incomprehensible. These characters are mostly cartoonish and do little more than serve the mechanics of the plot; none of them emerge as flesh-and-blood humans.
Snatch, like Pulp Fiction, is at its heart a black comedy, as much a satire of criminal genre conventions as it is a celebration of them. The film is punctuated with quick, sudden violence, some of which is darkly comical, some of which is slightly unnerving (Ritchie is generally restrained, though, in terms of actual gore). This is the kind of movie where characters carry around hatchets large enough to chop off a hand in order to get at the briefcase handcuffed to it, but don't think to carry a tool that could simply cut the chain. At one point, Brick Top delivers a brutally hilarious monologue about how to dispose of dead bodies by chopping them up and feeding them to hungry pigs (did you know pigs could eat two pounds of flesh per minute?).
There is little doubt that Ritchie has talent. His screenplay is literate and observant, and he is skilled at devising intricate plots with multiple threads that often converge in bizarre ways. One of the best scenes in Snatch is the moment when virtually every major character in the film winds up literally crashing into each other. Ritchie replays the scene several times from various points of view, showing how all the pieces lock together. Scenes like this have vigor and wit, but they are ultimately empty because we don't care much about any of the characters involved. When Ritchie combines his plotting skills and sense of black humor with human characters, he might just make a great film.
©2001 James Kendrick