“What do I know about diamonds?”
Hot on the heels of his debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie‘s sophomore effort Snatch proved to be the one to cement his name into American audiences’ consciousness. A second collaboration with soon-to-be action superstar Jason Statham, the heist flick is a hilarious romp of brutally violent men propelling itself forward through quick cuts and narrative coincidence/overlapping as illegal boxing matches meet faux Jewish jewelers on the hunt for a giant diamond of which everyone wants a piece. Yes, Statham’s fight promoter Turkish serves as the narrator and our most accessible entry point into the outlandish cockney escapades that ensue, but the appeal of the film on the whole lies more in the eccentric circus of crazies who eventually surround him.
Pig farming gangsters, inept thieves, invincible heavies, and a band of incoherent gypsies all turn up to make Turkish and his partner Tommy’s (Stephen Graham) aspirations for wealth and success a nightmarish spiral towards hell. The worst that could happen when they allow themselves to be put into the pocket of notoriously ruthless Brick Top (Alan Ford) occurs after Tommy underestimates the slighter of frame pikey—Irish Gypsy—Micky (Brad Pitt) for whom he was sent to purchase a caravan from. Pitting his man Gorgeous George against the insufferable mumbler so he can get back the ten large he paid for a faulty mobile home, he leaves empty-handed of the cash, the vehicle, and the fighter promised to take a dive in Brick Top’s ring. Turkish must now improvise to make things right and unsurprisingly watch while they only get worse.
As all this happens we also get Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) stealing the aforementioned rock to sell to Doug the Head (Mike Reid) who in turn wants to give it to his hot-tempered cousin Avi (Dennis Farina) in New York; Boris the Blade (Rade Serbedzija) appealing to Franky’s gambling habit with Brick Top’s game to sic low-rent criminals Sol (Lennie James) and Vinny (Robbie Gee) on him for the gem; and the menacingly violent hired gun Bullet-Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) readying to get mixed up in the action simply to have some fun. In great early Ritchie fashion we speed to and fro from each character’s subplot until all converge in a fateful car accident sending everything to a bloody head. Double-crosses, incalculable stupidity, and sheer dumb luck run rampant until the finish.
It’s a stylish assault of insanity that one could call post-Tarantino in its want to be witty and violent and pull no punches without the need for strict linear storytelling. Ritchie even has his opening credits sequence follow Del Toro’s thief waxing on about the Virgin Mary as a call back to Quentin’s own rant on Madonna‘s “Like a Virgin” at the start of Reservoir Dogs. (The best part of this and the fact Ritchie supposedly shelled out a million bucks to use the singer’s “Lucky Star” towards the end is how the director would soon marry the popstar in real life.) But despite the easy comparison and blatant homage lies a visual form all his own that has become extremely divisive as his career continued forward. Before than, however, Snatch made him a star.
Less a success because of the overly complex plotting taking us through London back alleys than the memorable performances by those on the journey, the film endures because of its quotable dialogue and those delivering it with such panache. Between Statham’s stoically cynical indifference, Graham’s naïve desire to do right by his boss, Jones and Serbedzija never shying away from going over-the-top in their ruthless behavior, Del Toro’s comical Jewish speech patterns, and James and Gee’s endearingly in-too-deep wannabe gangsters, there is little time for you to stop and think about how they all fit together when you’re laughing so hard at what they’re doing in their own personal, greedy ways. Like the dog snatching a squeaky toy before swallowing it whole, every man here grabs for a quick score.
And while Brad Pitt may be the most well-known actor involved—he ringed Ritchie up to become involved after loving Lock, Stock—and his portrayal one of the most famous for his willful retreat from the pretty boy looks so many were fast to label him as nothing more than, he really is just one small piece to the puzzle. His story does turn the darkest and his character does get the most visually stunning effect as a boxing ring turns into a blackened pool of water, it’s tough not to praise guys like Farina and Ford above him for turning scenery-chewing businessmen into much more. These two are absolutely frightening in their love for graphic violence and getting their way, creating iconic examples of villainy going beyond clichéd revenge.
This ability to manufacture huge laughs from heavy material with an impressive body count is what makes Ritchie an intriguing force in cinema. He had a couple trip ups before falling into the Hollywood machine with Sherlock Holmes, but what I will always love is his propensity to let audiences bask in the glory of irredeemably bad men without needing to necessarily pick a hero. It doesn’t matter who ends up getting the best of whom by the end because the trip they take us on is an unforgettable adrenaline rush through crime, murder, and mayhem without consequence except from each other. His worlds ultimately police themselves and while we do want Turkish to prevail here, it’s just as great seeing the psychopathic smiles on those killing with impunity along the way.