Snatch (2000)

[26 September 2002]

By Cynthia Fuchs

PopMatters Film and TV Editor


Snatch is all about attitude and style. And guys, lots of guys. Aggressive and jumpy, packed with brutish hooligans and feckless crooks, it’s a guys’ throw-down and then some. Its angles are edgy, its editing is speedy, and its narrative is progressively nonlinear, to the point that trying to figure out what happens when becomes mostly irrelevant. It’s not concerned with cause and effect or even any actual events per se. It’s focused on how those events come off on screen, how great they look, or better, how fast they look. As Bad Boy Lincoln (played by the supercool drum and bass artist Goldie), puts it when asked to dispose of a one-armed corpse, “I create the bodies, I don’t erase the bodies.” Okay then. Show me the bodies.

Writer-director Guy Ritchie certainly knows a bit about such showmanship (even aside from his all-show-all-the-time marriage). His first feature, 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, was a similar thrill-ride of a movie, a clever bit of low-budget neo-violence involving similar characters, similar intertwining subplots that come together in a tumultuous crescendo, and several of the same actors, including former U.K. football star Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, and Alan Ford, and introducing new-blood U.S. stars, like Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro.

Snatch is more of everything—more characters, more bumbling, more hysteria, more money, more bodies. The po-mo aesthetic choices (and even some of the plot points) obviously derive from previous guy films, not only Lock, Stock, but also Trainspotting and the Tarantino oeuvre. The minimal storyline stems from a diamond heist, beautifully introduced under the opening credits, as a series of video-surveillance monitor shots that follow a crew of thieves, disguised as Hasidic Jews and including Franky Four Fingers (Del Toro), as they make their way into an Antwerp jewel merchant’s office. In a dazzling blast of fast cuts and zooms, they snatch an 86-carat prize. From here, these crooks and others make mistake after mistake, which eventually come together in one deliriously choreographed sequence of events involving three or four sets of criminals, all on their way to get the diamond, either intentionally or by accident. These events repeat from different perspectives, so that you can’t be sure what happened until you see all the versions, and even then, well, you might not know exactly.

As a plainly pleased-with-itself exercise in excess and spectacle, the film features any number of eccentric characters and comic-violent climaxes. In the characters category, Brad Pitt’s piker (Irish gypsy) bare-knuckles boxer, One-Punch Mickey, is probably the most outrageous. Ritchie says that when Pitt asked to appear in his next movie (after the actor saw Lock, Stock), they decided that it would be grand to remake the heartthrob, who signed on for much less than his usual $20 million fee, so that he’s physically beat-up and verbally incomprehensible. Mickey is recruited to take a fall in an illegal bare-knuckle boxing match by two promoters (Jason Statham’s Turkish, who also serves as our personable narrator, and Stephen Graham’s Tommy, whom Turkish introduces like so: “He tells people he’s named after a gun, but I know he’s named after a famous 19th-century belly dancer”). They owe the local mucky-muck, Bricktop (Alan Ford), a substantial wad of quid. (Bricktop is instantly characterized by the fact that he keeps a barn full of pigs, which he feeds the remainders of victims who owed him money, and his colorful way with words: “Do you know what ‘nemesis’ means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent, personified in this case by an ‘orrible cunt: me!”)

As it turns out, Mickey is unable to take this fall, by virtue of his moral and physical constitution, not to mention his undying love for his dear “mam,” who bears the brunt of one particular payback scheme. That he does actually fall, quite spectacularly and in slow motion, backwards into a surreal ocean of unconsciousness (made literal in a way that could not be more obviously indebted to Renton’s infamous toilet swim in Trainspotting), is only a diversion. The point is, he won’t go down, and so he and his anxious promoters, Tommy and Turkish, find themselves in very deep “shite.”

Somehow and eventually, their predicament intersects with the diamond business, which was, incidentally, commissioned by a New York-based gangster, Avi (Dennis Farina). When that deal goes sour due to Franky’s gambling addiction (indicated by repeated speedy still-pose montages of him in various states of discombobulation, and accompanied each time by a snip of Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas”), Avi jets to London to retrieve his goods. The plot expands to include a few smalltime London hustlers, the aforementioned Lincoln, Vinny (Robbie Gee), Sol (Lennie James), and their first-time getaway driver Tyrone (played by first-time actor Ade)—all of whom are black. Their antics are surely brainless (they use a set of “replica” guns to take on a professional gunman), and some critics, most vocally, triphop artist and Bristol native Tricky, have called out the film for racism, but truth be told, the film treats most everyone—the Irish pikers, the British thugs, the Jews—with equal disrespect and glib cruelty.

As wanker movies go, Snatch is shrewd and entertaining. To the extent that it takes up a theme concerning its population of guys, you might say that it examines their capacity for distrust. Though they all have their mates, they also all have definite and understandable reasons for not trusting anyone, and for betraying everyone. It’s like a whirlwind version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but with more characters banging about, and fewer insights into them. Or rather, fewer clearly stated, classically framed insights. For Snatch isn’t so much interested in its characters’ psychologies as it is in their actions and reactions, displayed in amped-up, double-quick time. That it’s the piker (whom most all of the others deride at first, not least for the fact that they can’t understand a word he says) who teaches everyone a thing or two about loyalty and faith may be something of a moral. But it’s probably safer to say that Snatch leaves the characters’ eccentricities for you to decipher.

As cunning and fun as Snatch is as a movie, it’s almost better as a DVD. Its arrival on Sony’s Superbit Deluxe model just before the theatrical release of star Jason Statham’s The Transporter and director Guy Ritchie’s remake of Swept Away is surely coincidental. And yet, this flurry of these semi-related activities seems somehow meaningful, too. That’s not to say the meanings are evident, just available for reading. As in Turkish’s observation: “Have you ever stepped onto the road, and you turn and a car’s almost on you? Something very strange happens. Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes, ‘cause you’re too fuckin’ scared to think. You just freeze, and pull a stupid face!”

Disc one features the movie in Superbit transfer—splendid sound and image, ideal for slo-mo and freeze frames. Given the film’s general speediness, the opportunity to walk through some scenes pays back immensely. The package includes as well a making-of documentary (which only underlines the fun you imagine the guys having on the set, and their self-understanding; Lennie James and Robbie Gee explain their characters like so: “White folks aren’t going to get this, but black folks watching, will get this: We make it to the end of the movie”); storyboard comparisons (for all their “we’re just lads having a go at it” manner, Ritchie and company are nothing if not prepared when they do go at it); and some six deleted scenes (these with optional commentaries, so you might begin to fathom the process of selection). The documentary probably isn’t something you need to see more than once, and it does make you wish for a bit of commentary on the movie disc itself, so you might get a glimpse of what these guys were thinking. But no matter: Snatch comes with its own rewards.

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