Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Brad Pitt, Jason Flemyng, Vinnie Jones

Guy Ritchie

Writing credits: Guy Ritchie
Distributor: Screen Gems
Rated: R for strong violence, language and nudity
  (USA 2001)

Cinematic archetypes tend to have a timelessness about them, a personal charm that transcends years and locales -- the brooding cowboy, the suave spy, etc. For the last decade, a new archetype has been testing the limits of its immortality...the postmodern gangster. Since its first notable appearances in the films of Quentin Tarantino (RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION), these endlessly hip, overly verbose, retro-kitschy, morally ambiguous antiheroes have overpopulated the cinema landscape. Indeed, it's rare to find a smart action film that isn't deemed, in one way or another, "Tarantino-esque".

But is the postmodern gangster a stable enough, interesting enough, and malleable enough character type to last? An interesting footnote to this question is being played out in SNATCH, Guy Ritchie's second directorial foray into the criminal underworld of contemporary London. Filled with jump-cuts, stylistic flourishes, bold colors, gritty locales, trend-splattered dialogue, and a hefty comic subtext, SNATCH can be seen as a prime example of action films A.T. (after Tarantino).

But a closer inspection reveals something even more interesting -- SNATCH is actually a hybrid, cross-pollinating the pomo-gangster with a wide variety of classic film ingredients.

Sure, there are enough colorful, talkative criminals in SNATCH to give Vincent Vega, Marcellus Wallace, and Mr. Pink a run for their money. But dig a little deeper, and SNATCH reveals itself as a classic caper comedy. It's not impossible, in fact, to imagine Cary Grant leading this all-male story which is, in itself, a hybrid of genres (boxing and a jewel heist). It's as if Ritchie is less a Tarantino clone, and more the cinematic equivalent of a music DJ -- taking samples of classic moviemaking and mixing them with pop-cultural elements to create a refreshing blend that's entertaining AND intelligent.

The shaggy, unkempt plot begins and ends with Turkish (Jason Statham), a small time hood trying to get bigger by playing with big boys like Brick Top (Alan Ford), an illegal boxing promoter. In an attempt to fix an upcoming fight for Brick Top, Turkish enlists a street fighter gypsy, Mickey (Brad Pitt), who seems unable to properly take a dive.

Across town, an enormous diamond has been stolen by Frankie Four Fingers (Benecio Del Toro), who is supposed to take it to America for Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina). As one might expect, however, there are complications: a savage Russian named Boris The Blade (Rade Serbedzija) wants the diamond, and it's up to hired hitman Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) to get it back.

SNATCH's imperfections are many, but it's easy to see that Ritchie isn't really interested in the details. Creating larger-than-life characters is his forte, and they give actors tremendous freedom to play. Pitt, in particular, seems to be having the time of his life -- as the inarticulate, energetic Mickey, he's able to exhibit his rarely-used comic abilities while simultaneous poking fun at his own reputation for poor accents.

Critics will probably note, with disdain, the similarities between SNATCH and Ritchie's debut feature, LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS. Other than the given circumstances and the presence of Ritchie's favorite performer (Jones), the films aren't as similar as some would suggest. SNATCH strikes me as a much more assured effort; deftly moving between as many as five different story threads, the film rarely loses its way.

The performances vary in quality, but all are characterized by a pleasant, if fuzzy, energy. Standouts include Farina's exasperated American crime boss (mining a wealth of English-bashing good humor), Jones' deadpan wit, and Alan Ford's maniacal, nerdy leader. Of special mention is the perfectly case dog that figures prominently into the final reel's action, whose hilarious antics I won't spoil by describing here.

Lest this review sound too much like a rave, let it be read into the record that there are problems aplenty in this film. Some storylines go absolutely nowhere, the quality of acting in lesser roles is noticeably weak, and pacing continues to be Ritchie's biggest problem.

But let's not see only the forest, and not the trees. SNATCH is far from perfect work, but despite its faults, it's a noble experiment and a promising sophomore effort by Ritchie. For those who miss the comedies of Hawks and Cukor (and who don't mind a little gunfire and profanity) this is a welcome afternoon at the cinema. May the postmodern gangster archetype stay around for years to come -- as long as they stay as original, as funny, and as fascinating as the rogues' gallery in SNATCH.

- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2001 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.


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