I suppose a few warnings are necessary right up front about writer/director Guy Ritchie’s new film Snatch. Some people will no doubt object to the fact that all of Ritchie’s characters are sleazy clingers to the underbelly of the London crime world. Some will object to the constant profanity in Ritchie’s dialogue. Some will object to his liberal use of violence and the resulting high body count. And finally, some will even object to the almost impenetrable brogues and Cockney accents everyone uses.
In fact, Ritchie makes a running gag out of the fact that one character, a two-fisted gypsy played by Brad Pitt, has such a heavy accent that even the other characters in the film can’t understand him. This review is not for people who are bothered by things like that.
Also, Ritchie tends to accept his characters on their own terms, and he wastes no screen time clucking over their shortcomings. If you want to get the most out of Snatch, you’ll have to take such blithe amorality in stride.
So much for the disclaimers.
Snatch is a frantic, riotous caper comedy that never stops coming at you. It has characters with names like Franky Four Fingers, Bullet Tooth Tony and Doug the Head. The story is narrated by Turkish (Jason Statham), a promoter of “unlicensed” (read “no holds barred”) boxing matches. The focus of Turkish’s story is an 86-carat diamond, but for most of the film, Turkish doesn’t even know the diamond exists. He has other things on his mind, such as a match in which his fighter, Gorgeous George, was supposed to take a dive in favor of one backed by a local psycho named Brick Top (Alan Ford). The problem for Turkish began when a gypsy named Mickey (Pitt) put Gorgeous in the hospital and Turkish persuaded Mickey to step into the ring. But instead of going down as planned, Mickey won the fight with one punch, causing Brick Top no end of disappointment. And disappointing Brick Top is a bad career move; he keeps a barnful of hogs whose sole source of nourishment is the remains of those who have failed to live up to Brick Top’s expectations.
While Turkish is preoccupied with this, that huge diamond turns up at the same fight in the possession of Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro). Before the fight is over, though, both Franky and the diamond have fallen into the hands of Sol and Vinny (Lennie James and Robbie Gee), two local pawnbrokers working for Russian gangster Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia), and the crisis has brought Avi (Dennis Farina) over from New York to find Franky and the gem.
That’s as much of the plot as anyone should know going in. It’s dense and complicated, and Ritchie hurls it at us at about twice the speed of sound. The twin threads of story—the boxing match Turkish has to rig with Mickey and the scramble for the missing diamond—overlap and intertwine, and Ritchie keeps it straight in our own minds by doubling back in time when he needs to. It’s a sort of Quentin Tarantino touch, but like Tarantino, Ritchie uses the time-shifting because it fits the needs of the story, and not as a gaudy flourish.
Turkish’s narration makes the film sound like it’s being unreeled for us over a couple of pints of Guinness in a murky, smoke-filled pub. Ritchie’s style as a director is to pound away relentlessly at his story. The approach is broad and unsubtle—on the strength of this I wouldn’t exactly hire Ritchie to tackle a film of The Brothers Karamazov—but it gives the outlandish goings-on an aura of low-life farce and a breakneck street-wise energy.
Ritchie assumes the style of Tarantino but not the substance. Pulp Fiction, for all it’s violence and profanity, had moral underpinnings that are missing from Snatch. Ritchie revels in their absence: a scene in a bar between Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) and the two hapless pawnbrokers plays like a parody of the climactic confrontation between Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction. It’s a cheeky touch in a film that, on its own disreputable terms, delivers a lot of cheeky laughs.