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Snatch   B

Screen Gems

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Rade Sherbedgia, Alan Ford, Mike Reid, Ewen Bremmer, Andy Beckwith.

Review by Rob Vaux

If nothing else, Snatch should be applauded for trying to pull British cinema away from the mummified clutches of Merchant-Ivory period pieces. Its slick, subversive appeal has more in common with Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction than The Remains of the Day, and while it never comes across with the originality that it clearly aspires to, it has so much infectious energy that only the most cold-hearted filmgoer would care. Director Guy Ritchie (who recently made headlines as Madonna's husband du jour) sticks to the same territory he covered in his debut film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. As with its predecessor, Snatch delves into the violent and slightly absurd world of petty London criminals, telling a story so complex that it needs to identify the principle players before the actions begins.

Attempting to explain the plot is an exercise in futility, but the film itself earns marks by never losing track of its threads. It begins with a diamond, an 86 carat monstrosity that Jewish gangster Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) steals from a Belgian exchange. He's supposed to return it to his boss (Dennis Farina) in New York, but has a layover in London, and his compulsive gambling habits detour him into the seedy world of unlicensed boxing. Ruled by the sadistic Brick Top (Alan Ford), London's bloodsport community has problems of its own: deadpan promoter Turkish (Jason Statham, serving as Snatch's narrator) has lost his top fighter in a brawl with some gypsies and needs a replacement before Brick Top feeds him to his herd of carnivorous pig; Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia), a Russian gun dealer with more lives than a cat, is so far in debt that he needs a proxy to bet on his fights for him; and Irish gypsy Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt), whose brogue broke loose from its trainers and killed several onlookers, wants Turkish to buy him a new trailer for his beloved mother. Drop a priceless jewel into a crowd like this, and things are bound to get ugly.

I didn't care much for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; it seemed too derivative, and its gimmicky direction came across as overly eager to please. While little has changed in Snatch, Ritchie's latter effort somehow comes across as more charming than its predecessor. It has less to prove, and allows us to enjoy its earthy wit without pounding our faces in how innovative it is. Ritchie can't resist a very gimmicky style of filmmaking -- Snatch is full of split screens, multiple-speed photography and the like -- but it blends very easily with the machinegun caper he's trying to tell. The flashy techniques and rapid editing serve to keep us focused rather than diverting us from the plot. A complex story can be a joy to watch if it's told properly, and Ritchie uses energy and humor to keep all of his ducks in a row.

Perhaps Snatch's greatest strength is its deliberate Englishness... its ability to look at the mayhem it creates with a raised eyebrow and an arch remark. The screenplay (written by Ritchie) brims with wit, echoing a uniquely cockney sensibility amid the now-standard mixing of brutal violence with slapstick humor. Most of the criminals here are bunglers, and Ritchie takes a very British joy in demonstrating their hapless behavior. Most films in this vein are American -- following in the footsteps of Quentin Tarantino -- and Snatch, like Lock, Stock, distinguishes itself by approaching the material from a distinctly different viewpoint. Colonial actors such as Pitt and Farina blend in well with the rest of the cast, and everyone keeps their tongue planted firmly in their cheeks (a virtual necessity in films like this). At the end, it's all a lark -- the action remains superficial, and the characters, while colorful, rarely rise above stereotypes -- yet it has so much fun playing on our expectations that even the clichés become part of the enjoyment.

Ritchie has carved out a comfortable niche for himself, and doesn't seem too interested in leaving it. Snatch isn't much of a creative stretch from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which may disappoint some of his critics. But with his debut behind him, he's able to concentrate on the best aspects of his chosen formula without trying too hard to impress us. This wicked diversion continues the trend against bloodless Masterpiece Theater adaptations, and reminds us that there's life in British filmmaking yet. For that, Snatch deserves our gratitude.

Review published 01.23.2000.

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