As I write this, it’s less than one month prior to the release of Sherlock Holmes, writer/director Guy Ritchie’s first foray into big-budget filmmaking, and one thing is for certain: he needs a hit in a big way. After a slight creative resurgence with 2008’s mild success RocknRolla, the stage is set to see if Ritchie can prove himself outside his milieu of gritty crime films. But before he was known as Madonna’s (now former) husband to the general public, Guy Ritchie was just an indie British filmmaker with a love for Tarantino and The Italian Job.
After gaining scores of acclaim with the smart and funny Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998, Ritchie refined his blueprint of slick urban crime further with 2000’s international crossover Snatch, now making its way to Blu-ray nearly a decade after its release. The question is whether Snatch still holds up in retrospect after Ritchie’s series of disasters (Swept Away), misfires (Revolver), and mediocre-fare (RocknRolla) jeopardizing his status as a talented auteur.
Accelerating at a breakneck speed, Snatch is driven by an ensemble of crime misfits in London, with cartoon-like characters such as the unlicensed boxing promoters Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham), gypsy boxer Mickey (Brad Pitt), hitman Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones), gambling-addict and thief Frankie “Four-Fingers” (Benicio del Toro), and a whole slew of other memorable turns by character actors like Rade Sherbedgia as former KGB Boris The Blade and Dennis Farina as Cousin Avi.
Unlike the enigmatic briefcase in Pulp Fiction which is unknown in the film, what everyone in Snatch is circling on is an 86 karat diamond “the size of a fist”, which gets stolen by Frankie “Four-Fingers” during a humorous heist by fake Hasidic Jews at the start of the film. But just as Cousin Avi predicts, Frankie’s gambling-addiction gets the better of him, and a series of unfortunate events occur which cause a host of characters including two London pawnbrokers (Sol and Vinnie) to take aim for the diamond.
Another side-plot occurring simultaneously revolves around Turkish and Tommy’s dealings with crime syndicate leader Brick Top, played terrifically by the menacingly funny Alan Ford. This is a man that you do not want to cross, which makes things difficult for the two when they get tangled up with the gypsy camp boxer Mickey, whose unintelligible language and stubbornness make him a challenge to manage for the two greenhorn promoters. These two storylines weave seamlessly with each other, but at times the film feels slightly aimless because all these chaotic events only serve to follow each other, and there’s little buildup or development that allows the characters to become anything but caricatures.
Additionally, it’s hard not to see the similarities between Snatch and its predecessor Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which Ritchie admits he was aware of during the “Making of” featurette on the disc. He streamlines the formula by trying to make it more mainstream, with a soundtrack of infectious UK dance music, and by casting more international names like Pitt, del Toro, and Farina. Ritchie tries to give Snatch a distinctly bigger production value to it, using fast-cut editing and a lot of impressive shot transitions that are detailed in the storyboard feature on the disc. It’s also nice to see that he uses his usual suspects to fill out roles in the film, giving greater exposure to Statham and Jones for their respective performances.
Pitt gives an oddly believable turn as Mickey, lending equal part cunning and fury to the gypsy momma’s boy. Farina is quick-witted and neurotic as Cousin Avi, the lone American in the film, humorously sticking out like a sore thumb in the land of fish and chips. With zero major female characters, it’s hard not to see this as a boy’s club, and it’s obvious Ritchie likes to indulge in his dialogue quite a bit considering all of the scenes he had trouble leaving on the cutting room floor. Nevertheless, the film has a lot of energy due to the fact that it is cut with little fat, remaining entertaining throughout its lean running time of 104 minutes.
While Sony had previously given the film a superbit release, making it one of the more premium DVDs out there in terms of quality, the new Blu-ray transfer is the best way to see the film yet. The stylish cinematography and smooth editing really help distinguish the film as Ritchie’s vision, and the storyboard and production features confirm that. Disappointingly, the majority of features on the disc have been seen before, so there is nothing to suggest a repurchase other than the high definition transfer. The commentary with Ritchie and producer Matthew Vaughn is worth a listen, and the dated production featurette gives some insight, but there’s a lot left to be desired with this release.
While it may be indulgent, superficial, and tailored almost wholly to a male audience, Snatch pulls off what it intends for, and that is an uncompromising postmodern portrayal of crime life in London. Today it may not feel as daring or innovative as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but Snatch is Ritchie at his creative and commercial peak, and we’ll have to wait until Christmas before we can see whether he can make it all the way back there after a career spent wavering. If not, at least he can say he got it right the first two times.