Snatch (United States/United Kingdom, 2000)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

As his career develops, it may turn out that British maverick filmmaker Guy Ritchie has only the taste and talent to make one kind of film - but, if every salvo he fires is as snappy, funny, and energized as his initial two movies (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), does that kind of limitation really matter? After all, not every director has to be like Martin Scorsese and dabble in costume dramas and would-be epics about religious figures. As long as Ritchie avoids overexposure, he could have a nice future ahead of him making twisted caper pictures like this one.

On a certain level, one could almost consider Snatch to be a big-budget remake of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The names and specifics have changed, but the structure - the earlier movie's most obvious asset - has remained largely the same. Like Robert Rodriguez with his transformation of El Mariachi into Desperado, Ritchie has used the extra money to hire a few big name stars and to make the final product look more polished, but his overall approach has not changed. The story follows the same post-Tarantino formula that mixes criss-crossing storylines, copious violence, witty dialogue, and laugh-aloud black comedy.

Boiled down to its essentials, Snatch is about a group of goons, low-level gangsters, and assorted undesirables, all of whom are after the same thing - a stolen, 84 karat diamond that's the size of a chubby baby's fist. The movie is narrated by Turkish (Jason Statham), a boxing promoter who is unwillingly pulled into the story. The diamond is initially stolen in Antwerp by Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro), who brings it to London. Once there, it is hotly pursued by the likes of an American "businessman", Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina), his blustering British cousin, Doug the Head (Mike Reid), and his hard-nosed sidekick, Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones). Also in the hunt are ex-KGB agent Boris the Blade (Rade Serbedzija), sadistic crime boss Brick Top (Alan Ford), and a group of inept thieves with a pet dog. To further complicate matters, we are introduced to bare-knuckle boxer Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt), whose fortunes become integral to the convoluted narrative's eventual resolution. Part of the fun is watching how (and sometimes why) all of these characters interact, and seeing what happens when things don't go as planned.

Snatch is raucous and crude, but never boring or predictable. It is bold, brash, and cartoonish, and never takes itself seriously. In interviews, Ritchie has claimed not to have been influenced by Tarantino, but the video clerk-cum-filmmaker's trademarks are littered around Snatch's colorful landscape (both in terms of technique and plot contortions). However, since Tarantino's style is the result of synthesizing the approaches of directors he admires, it's possible that Ritchie arrived at something similar by having the same influences. Whatever the case, most people who enjoyed Pulp Fiction will appreciate Snatch.

Like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch works equally well as a violent comedy or a testosterone-fueled action film (no women have significant roles, although a few extras bare their breasts). Snatch finds humor in all sorts of grotesque situations - some viewers will probably be discomfited by the realization that they're laughing at such gruesome material. Some of Snatch's less conventional plot elements include a dog that squeaks because it swallowed a squeeze toy, a briefcase attached to a severed arm, and a unique form of pig food. The dialogue is slick and witty, and often includes bizarre digressions (such as a lengthy discourse on a peculiar way to dispose of bodies). There are also a few great one-liners. (One example: Tony's assertion that "You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity.") Ritchie also employs frequent fast cuts and quick edits to convey a lot of information in a short time (such as when Cousin Avi flies back and forth between the U.S. and the U.K.), and he occasionally rewinds the story to show an event from a different viewpoint. (One car accident is depicted first from the inside, then, moments later, shown again from the outside.) And, during one scene, Ritchie's then-girlfriend (now-wife), Madonna, can be heard on a car radio.

Many members of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' cast have returned, including deadpan football star-turned-actor Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, Alan Ford, and Jason Flemyng. Joining them are some prominent Hollywood faces. Dennis Farina is effective as a single-minded businessman who has a few bad experiences. Brad Pitt, in full grunge mode, is at times hilarious as a gypsy boxer whose accent is often indecipherable. And Benicio Del Toro seems to be having fun as a four-fingered diamond thief.

The biggest complaint being leveled against Snatch is that it's derivative, but that can be as much of a strength as a weakness. The film isn't quite as enjoyable as its predecessor, largely because the "been there, done that" factor comes into play. Nevertheless, for those who like this kind of movie, Snatch represents a diversion to be reckoned with. It's a reflection of the times, and of the kinds of films that are now considered hip and cutting edge. Ritchie came out of nowhere to make a big splash with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Snatch doesn't take him to the next plateau of filmmaking, but it proves that he's got some staying power. It will be interesting to see whether his next feature takes him into new territory or whether he elects to remain within the same, comfortable niche.

Snatch (United States/United Kingdom, 2000)

Run Time: 1:44
U.S. Release Date: 2001-01-19
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1