Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Smash-mouth noir

Guy Ritchie cuts this precious stone with comic violence.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Dennis Farina (l) and Vinnie Jones in Snatch.
  • Dennis Farina (l) and Vinnie Jones in Snatch.

A “diamond the size of a fist” isn’t the only outrageous thing about Snatch, writer-director Guy Ritchie’s violent, witty caper set in London’s underworld. In his follow-up to the blazing Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie lets loose a visual assault, a film which refuses to see anything in a conventional manner.

Start with Snatch’s characters, tough men anxious to make the big score, all on a collision course with the diamond and each other. The moral center — if this film can be said to have one — is represented by two small-timers in way over their heads: the husky-voiced Turkish (Jason Statham), promoter of unsanctioned, bare-knuckle boxing matches, and his loyal but routinely inept sidekick, Tommy (Stephen Graham). They’ve become indebted to the local crime boss, Brick Top (in Alan Ford’s complex and scary performance, he’s one of the screen’s most fascinating sadists), and find fresh talent in “One Punch” Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt), a pikey (slang for Irish gypsy) fighter who’s involved them in a bizarre scam.

Meanwhile, jewel thief Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) makes a pit stop in London only to find himself the prey of the formidable Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia), an action which prompts the arrival of New York diamond merchant Avi (Dennis Farina), the stone’s intended buyer.

Sound complex? That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Ritchie draws his innumerable bigger-than-life characters via broad strokes and small fetishes, in part because each needs to make a strong impression right away. And they do. Fix-it man Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) is introduced during a startling flashback which illustrates his nickname, just one of many instances in Snatch where violence is married to comedy (other jokes are more overt, like Pitt’s immersion in a pidgin language so intentionally indecipherable that picking out phrases such as “periwinkle blue” is like finding diamonds in coal).

Ritchie creates a London tourists rarely see, one populated by scammers, opportunists and casual killers, to skewer old ideas of England (no longer a global power and retreating to provincial attitudes). Ritchie’s Englishmen are simultaneously undone by rebellious elements within Great Britain and besieged by outsiders.

With this cheeky reinterpretation of a shopworn genre, Ritchie has fused polar opposites to create a distinctive style. Call it a cool fever pitch, a state that’s simultaneously frenzied and subdued, making Snatch a multifaceted gem.

See this week's Reckless Eyeballing for Serena Donadoni's exclusive interview with Snatch writer-director Guy Ritchie.

E-mail Serena Donadoni at letters@metrotimes.com.

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