Screen Gems/SKA Films
Ever since Hollywood began its clampdown on gun violence in movies in November 1999, after the Columbine shootings, films with pointing pistols have been few. Tarantino-inspired violence fiestas have all but vanished from the big screen (Christopher McQuarrie's The Way of the Gun was a short-lived exception). British writer/director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) jeers Hollywood's self-imposed abstinence from guns with his second London-based crime caper.
Snatch is more of a music video crossed with TV commercial styling than it is a well-wound feature film clock. But Ritchie's gallows humor and blistering quick pacing create a slick kind of modern slapstick noir that entertains in brief bursts with wicked aggression.
In the opening credit sequence, a group of Jewish jewel thieves rob a company in Antwerp. The action is broken up by snaps of freeze-frame portraits of boxing poster styled images to introduce gangsters like Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro), Brick Top (Alan Ford), and Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones). It's a delicious rockin' intro that, like a glorious television show trailer, promises a much better story than the disjointed narrative can give.
Unlicensed boxing promoter Turkish (Jason Statham) provides voice-over narration about his overzealous partner-in-crime flunky Tommy (Stephen Graham), and their workaday world of crime. Franky (Del Toro) is a jewel thief with a gambling addiction and a freshly stolen diamond "the size of your fist." Franky gets sidetracked from handing the diamond over to his American boss Avi (Dennis Farina) because of an illegal boxing fight where Boris "the Blade" plans to filch Franky's big rock. Meanwhile Turkish and Tommy are forced into replacing their patsy boxer with an Irish gypsy badass named Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt) when Mickey kills boxer number one in an unplanned showdown.
Bad things happen when Mickey wins the bout he was employed to lose in the fourth round. Suddenly Brick Top, a brutal gambling lord, is busy dishing out bloodshed to feed to pigs on his farm and arranging a second fight to redeem his losses.
Because the story clumps together Russian, English, Jewish, Irish, Black and American gangsters, the movie plays like a roulette wheel of cultural sampling. Each group has its own trump cards. The Irish "piker" Mickey uses his thick mumbling accent to confuse and betray his opponents, while the British "Brick Top" chews and spits noxious words through his gnarling yellow teeth. Guy Ritchie stomps so heavily over his variety of cartoonish stereotypes that there isn't an opportunity to question some misjudged message of political incorrectness. It's like a dog race. The dogs may be different sizes and breeds, but they're all still just dogs at the end of the day.
By the time Snatch culminates in a converging car chase sequence that takes its cues from Run Lola Run, it's obvious that Snatch is a rugby game kind of movie. Nobody's happy unless their clothes are torn and they've had to swallow a few mouthfuls of dirt.
Snatch comes nowhere near milestone British gangster movies like Get Carter (1971) or The Long Good Friday (1980). Those movies are stiff drinks that leave you feeling like you've been inducted into an elite club when you're through watching them. Snatch merely makes you feel like you've watched something that a bunch of people younger than you will enjoy more.
Snatch is a gritty little madcap, second-rate caper movie that makes sardonic use of guns and the juvenile stupidity they can inspire. While Guy Ritchie is a better director than he is a writer, he's got an ear for spunky dialogue and a knack for casting. Brad Pitt isn't the only actor working some cinematic magic in this nearly good gangster sendup.