Filmmaker Guy Ritchie was pretty hot there for a while in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. His first two feature length films got a lot of attention for their look, style, humor, and cleverness. Both films focus on the criminal element of UK society. Both films involve plenty of unsavory, yet still likeable, characters. Some of these fellows do some pretty horrible stuff, but somehow you can’t help but like them.
The second feature is Snatch (2000) and is, perhaps, a film for a future blog. This week I’ll be talking about the first one: 1998’s Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. I just watched it again last night and found it as fresh and innovative as when I first saw it.
There may be some mild spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
It’s a complicated plot in that it involves so many characters, but it goes like this: There are four friends. Three of them Eddy (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng), and Bacon (Jason Statham) are small time crooks and con men. The fourth, Soap (Dexter Fletcher), is mostly legit working as a restaurant man. The four of them cobble together £100,000 to get Eddy into a high stakes card game. Eddy is a bit of a card sharp and the four are confident he’ll win big.
Well, he doesn’t. In fact, he loses big. Very big. £500,000 big. And he loses to “Hatchet” Harry Lonsdale, a local porn impresario with a very bad temper and connections to some very bad people. Eddy and his friends are given a week to come up with the money or they start losing fingers for each day they are late. When they run out of fingers, there are other things that can be cut off. Eventually, the fellows will be killed. Eddy’s father, played by Sting, is also threatened with not only the loss of his son, but the loss of his bar. And he’s more fond of the bar.
Living on the other side of the wall from Eddy’s flat (British for “apartment”) is a gang of very bad men who rob drug dealers for a living. Eddy overhears his neighbors planning their next heist. This gives Eddy an idea. He and his pals will wait for the very bad men to complete their heist, bust in, and take the weed and cash the bad men had just stolen. Then they’ll sell the “gear” and use the cash to pay back “Hatchet” Harry. Easy as cake!
You can probably guess the plan doesn’t quite go off that easily. There are plenty of complications along the way as more and more bad men get involved. This story has quite a few threads (including one involving two old shotguns) to weave together and Ritchie does it superbly. And with a strong amount of tension, violence, and humor throughout.
A word about the violence.
Ritchie does something very interesting with the violence in this movie. After my first viewing, I came away thinking how cool the movie was and how funny, but I also thought it was very violent. And it is, sort of. You see, for as violent as the story is, virtually every act of violence takes place off camera.
A character is beaten to death with a… um… sexual implement, except you never actually see him hit by the… uh… tool. It’s the same when an enforcer named Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) uses a car door, his foot, and his fist to beat a man to death. It both cases, we see the attacker being incredibly violent, but we never see a single blow hit the victim. In fact, during the attacks the victim is rarely seen at all. There’s even a scene in which a hapless traffic warden gets a good trashing, but he’s hidden behind the seat of a van when the beating starts. And when it goes into full force the scene cuts to black.
There are a number of shootouts in the film, but, as far as I can recall, we only ever see one person get shot. We do see the bloody aftermath, though.
It is rated R for the violence, sexual references, a bit of nudity (almost always worth one star in the ratings in my book), and the prolific use of foul language throughout. And you might want to have the subtitles on, because the accents can get a little thick. But, don’t let that spoil the scene in which the film uses subtitles to explain what a character speaking in Cockney Rhyming Slang is saying.
Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is a very entertaining film. It’s smart (even if not all the characters are the brightest knives in the drawer), funny, and beautifully shot. It also has an excellent soundtrack.
This movie is a lot of fun.
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