Tom Jolliffe takes a look back at Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at 20 years old, and Snatch, which recently turned 18…
This year marks 20 years since the release of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Likewise, we’ve just passed the 18 year mark since the release of Snatch. Lock, Stock was the film to watch for Brits 20 years ago. Around the country, particularly in the South, everyone was in a quoting frenzy, whether you caught it at the cinemas or on video release.
Two years after his debut, Guy Ritchie cemented himself as Britain’s hot property film-maker. He’d essentially made two films which were the same. Snatch just also happened to be backed by the star power of Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro. What kind of legacy have those films left, and have they aged well?
Lock, Stock, and then Snatch as a double whammy led to something you might call Lock, Stock fatigue. As Ritchie’s debut grabbed an entire nation of impressionable ‘lads,’ cinemas and video stores were suddenly filling with low rent films inspired by the formula. Every line of dialogue had to be quotably funny. There needed to be a bunch of cockney geezers and one double hard bastard. Vinnie Jones was just breaking America, so second best alternatives were often sought. The point is, like The Matrix which saw all and sundry aping it, Lock, Stock was being riffed on persistently. The trouble is, Ritchie’s first two films are far from original. They’re somewhat broadly stroked caricatures of much better films (The Long Good Friday).
One thing you can certainly say about the films, is that they are brimming with energy. It’s the self-indulgence and assurance of which the films are made. Great soundtracks, a core cast who bounce well off each other and an unstructured narrative that takes fairly ordinary plots and makes them a tad more interesting. Again, that owes a lot to Ritchie’s clear influence from Quentin Tarantino. The two were oft compared upon release, although there’s a clear and distinct difference, quite evident in the legacy of their respective opening gambits. Whilst Tarantino of course owed much to the film-makers that inspired him, his talents as a writer and indeed stylist had a subtlety and depth that eluded (and probably still does) Ritchie.
Film-makers still, all too haphazardly, mimic Ritchie’s films. Almost on a weekly basis there’s a video premiere release in the UK that looks like another Mockney Geezer film. A lot of these films follow the same shot and edit patterns that Ritchie concocted too. His films had a certain style, irreverent energy, that was mostly superfluous. Very much style over substance. You need only watch the intro for Snatch. It’s high energy certainly, but it’s more of a ‘look what I can do’ moment as opposed to anything that helps progress the plot.
Around the turn of the century between the likes of Ritchie, or The Matrix, or Tony Scott, there was a distinct fascination in playing with every trick you could perform with your camera, and then going even further in the editing suite. You could call these ‘avid farts.’ Then they slowly drifted out of popularity in the last decade. They ended up out of fashion. You’ll often see a film come out, and it looks dated because of how it was shot and cut. It’s all flash. It’s still particularly common in straight to video action films. A popular Ritchie staple was title cards for each character, combined with a freeze-frame and some kind of vfx filter. That’s still a ridiculously common occurrence and never with the irony required to pull it off.
Despite a not entirely useful lasting legacy on British indie cinema (though any film-maker can’t be blamed for who follows in their trail), looking back to Lock, Stock and Snatch one thing is clear; Yes they’ve probably dated. Yes their cultural impact has lessoned, and being released now, they’d not attain the iconic levels they did 20 years ago, but the films are fun. Ray Winstone may hate them with a passion (deeming them to be made by a posh boy who doesn’t understand the cockney culture) but they’re enjoyable movies. Not an ounce of subtlety granted but Ritchie also lead to launching the careers of Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, Vinnie Jones, Matthew Vaughan, and Dexter Fletcher (a fine director himself now).
Vaughan came to a point when looking to launch as a director of wanting to distance himself from Ritchie, to show himself off as a helmer with a little more substance. Layer Cake has aged better than Ritchie’s films because it’s grounded with a stronger lead, has more restrained styling and more coherence but it would be fair to say that since then, Vaughan has largely become a film-maker whose films have far more style than substance. He makes breezy, fun films which are fairly disposable. Ultimately that’s what Ritchie was doing when he broke out (and Vaughan was his producing partner). He might want to feel like the higher brow of the two, but the truth is, they’re not too far apart.
Whilst the initial impact of Ritchie’s introduction was huge, the lasting impact of those films is waning. Their importance on British cinema has lessoned. They’re a moment of success, but they’re not iconic, impacting or lasting in the way The Long Good Friday was, or Get Carter. Revisiting is to see something enjoyably light. They’re still quotable, they’re still funny, but classic films? Not really. As a filmmaker it doesn’t seem like Ritchie has moved with the times or matured either, but that may come. He attracts the calibre around him that could come together to deliver something with more meaning. If his career post Snatch suggested anything, it’s that he needs to find more subtlety in his direction and writing from the maddeningly convoluted Revolver to a confused approach to King Arthur.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see… http://tomjolliffe.wordpress.com/films/