Guy Ritchie had a decidedly ‘90s beginning as a film director.
Guy Ritchie had a decidedly ‘90s beginning as a film director, brashly forgoing formal training (a la Fincher) and launching straight in to his career with a loud, stylish and beloved genre film that he both wrote and directed (a la Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson). Like all three of those US-American ‘90s auteurs, Ritchie’s early films were unabashedly masculine, blackly comic and intentionally and unnecessarily labyrinthine. Unlike his peers across the pond, however, Ritchie produced only two films before he made the objectively amazing music video for Madonna’s “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” fell in love with the sex icon/singer and completely shifted his filmmaking career.
Snatch, which turns 20 years old this year, is the latter of that Ritchie pair. It is a film very much like his debut, the beloved Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Both are films set in the London underworld, with fancifully named characters, such as Snatch’s Bullet-Tooth Tony, who speak with outlandish accents. Many of the cast members appear in both films, including Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones. In each movie, the criminals are…colorful. Most are an unenviable combination of incompetent and unlucky. Some are complete dolts while others are masterminds, and some combine both and function as idiot savants. Statham is usually the protagonist and Jones is always a musclebound philosopher who combines epistemology with haymakers. Both films are absolute delights.
Snatch is the funnier film, though it is not quite as slick in its plot mechanics as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The premise for Snatch—and keep in mind that these early Ritchie efforts are convoluted—involves multiple intersecting storylines. On one hand is Statham’s Turkish, an underground boxing promoter who needs a better office/mobile home. On a second hand is Brad Pitt playing an Irish Traveler named Mickey O’Neil, who unwittingly hospitalizes Turkish’s star fighter in a brawl, leading Turkish to use O’Neil for his upcoming boxing match instead. On yet a third hand is diamond thief and gambling addict Frankie Four Fingers (Benicio del Toro) who gets sidetracked from transporting an enormous stolen gem from Belgium to New York after a London liaison mentioned an underground boxing match that he could bet on. Again, Snatch is convoluted.
Essentially, the inciting incident here goes more or less like this: Turkish is supposed to make sure that Mickey takes a dive in the fourth round so that the other promoter—the psychopathic murderer Brick Top (Alan Ford)—can make money for his friends. But Mickey does not give a fuck what anyone else wants and puts the other fighter to sleep in the first. Brick Top goes into full berserker mode. Frankie Four Fingers is at the fight—along with most of the criminal element of London—and the very large diamond on his person becomes of interest to most of the other fight fans.
What ensues is a twisty (and twisted!) spree of murder, pugilism, arson and general mayhem, all usually happening to—but not caused by—Turkish. And remember that Ritchie’s gangsters are, as a rule, sociopathic morons with insane accents, so Snatch is hilarious. As with his debut, the many overlapping subplots eventually converge into a final set piece that is simultaneously bedlam and narrative genius. It is probably really awesome to marry Madonna, but Ritchie moving away from his own particular vision of the London underworld is a real loss for cinephiles everywhere: that is the lasting legacy of Snatch two decades later.