Unscrupulous boxing promoters, violent bookmakers, a Russian gangster, incompetent amateur robbers and supposedly Jewish jewelers fight to track down a priceless stolen diamond.
The rich tradition of British crime flicks dates back to the 1970s with Get Carter (1971) and The Long Good Friday (1980). Since Guy Ritchie exploded onto the British film scene in the 1990s, he’s reinvigorated the tradition with a postmodern twist. Set within London’s criminal underground, the writer-director’s feature-length debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), earned critical acclaim, and his distinctive blend of style, humour, and energy drew comparisons with the work of Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood). Ritchie’s sophomore effort, Snatch, may have the same blood flowing through its veins as its predecessor, but it further enhanced the filmmaker’s style and visual flair.
Set in London, Snatch follows multiple narratives concerning various characters as they search for a priceless stolen diamond. Jewellery thief Franky ‘Four-Fingers’ (Benicio Del Toro) arrives in London to deliver the diamond to his boss, Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina), but his compulsive gambling habits detour him into placing a bet on an unlicensed boxing match. Little does he know, he’s being set up by Russian gun dealer Boris ‘The Blade’ (Rade Serbedzija). Meanwhile, the unlicensed boxing promoter, Turkish (Jason Statham), is drawn into the underground world of boxing ran by the notorious ‘Brick Top’ (Alan Ford), and things become complicated when Turkish’s prized fighter is hospitalised by bare-knuckle Irish fighter Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt). Now desperate for a replacement, Turkish and his business partner Tommy (Stephen Graham), must convince Mickey to fight for them.
The large ensemble of colourful personalities helps emphasise the realistic depiction of London’s criminal underworld. Jason Statham (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) delivers a cool and enigmatic performance as the underground boxing promoter, Turkish. After a series of unfortunate events, he’s forced to find a fighter for one of Brick Top’s boxing matches. Today known as one of the UK’s most reliable action stars, it’s refreshing to see the actor flex his comedic chops in this earlier role; his deadpan deliver and excellent narration carry the story as if he was twisting the audience’s ear down at the local pub. Similarly, Stephen Graham (The Irishman) makes his feature-length debut as Turkish’s inept and fearful sidekick, Tommy, full of nervous energy. The two share tremendous chemistry, bringing an excellent touch of comedy and camaraderie to the screen. There’s a sense of Laurel & Hardy about the duo as they’re foiled by ineptitude but tied irrevocably by loyalty. Additionally, Alan Ford (An American Werewolf In London) is simultaneously menacing and hilarious as sadistic crime boss Brick Top; with his large-rimmed glasses and penchant for pigs, he epitomises cold-blooded viciousness.
While also featuring several returning favourites from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch boasts several Hollywood heavyweights that helped its transatlantic appeal. The late Dennis Farina, who made a career for himself in similar crime flicks like Midnight Run (1988) and Get Shorty (1995), is perfectly cast as unscrupulous jeweller Cousin Avi. Whereas Benicio Del Toro (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) makes wonderful use of his brief screen-time as gambling addict Franky ‘Four-Fingers’. However, it’s Brad Pitt’s (Thelma and Louise) memorable performance as bare-knuckle fighter Mickey O’Neil that stands out. In possibly one of his best performances, the actor draws on his physicality of Fight Club (1999) and the unhinged quality he brought to Twelve Monkeys (1995). Demonstrating he’s at best whenever inhabiting absurd characters, Pitt’s unrecognisable dressed in plaid trousers and a disgusting fur overcoat. His unintelligible Irish brogue is a constant source of hilarity, too, inspired by criticism of the British accents in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Displaying a frivolous brawn that Connor McGregor would eventually imitate, Pitt flourishes with the material and is an absolute pleasure to watch.
Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, one could argue Snatch is almost a big-budget remake of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. However, similar to how Robert Rodriguez transformed El Mariachi (1992) into Desperado (1996), Ritchie’s filmmaking sensibilities are more refined and polished here. He displays precise control over a convoluted series of paralleling narratives, expertly weaving them together. Although it’s a laboured comparison, Snatch is best described as the Cockney equivalent of Pulp Fiction (1994). Similar to Tarantino’s masterpiece, it’s essentially a series of entangled threads slowly unraveling in unexpected and unconventional ways. Coinciding with the boxing match and diamond heist, several of the less conventional plot elements include a squeaking dog and a briefcase attached to a severed arm. There’s also a manner of other similarities, including Brick Top’s unique way of disposing corpses, which echoes that of Harvey Keitel’s Winston Wolfe. Admittedly, it’s easy to dismiss Snatch as unoriginal, but Ritchie vigorously demonstrates he’s a confident filmmaker capable of rivalling Hollywood’s best.
Despite working with a $10M budget, Snatch is grounded by the filmmaker’s London roots. Considering Snatch isn’t what one would consider a comedy, the screenplay brims with witty dialogue and quotable one-liners. Most of the criminals are incompetent and Ritchie takes a particularly British joy in demonstrating their hapless behaviour. In a separate storyline, we follow three low-level criminals Boris hires to steal the diamond, and the interactions between the three amateur outlaws provide many hilarious moments. In the first of several failed robberies, Vinny (Robbie Gee) reveals a large tactical shotgun he brought for the heist. As he uncovers the weapon, Sol (Lennie James) responds with “it’s a fucking anti-aircraft gun, Vincent.” Additionally, Cousin Avi’s disgust and hatred for England provides several laugh-out-loud moments. He’s a fish-out-of-water and frustrated with London slang, complaining “I thought this country spawned the fucking language, and so far nobody seems to speak it.” It’s a great moment and serves as a wink to US critics who found Ritchie’s Cockney dialogue difficult to understand.
Beginning his career directing hyper-stylised music videos, Ritchie’s filmmaking idiosyncrasies are often accused of being style over substance. Whether it’s the heightened realities of the mid-19th-century shown in Sherlock Holmes (2009), or the 1960s glamour featured in The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015), the director demonstrates a strong visual flair. Although Ritchie deserves praise for such work, credit must be shared with Jon Harris’s (127 Hours) phenomenal editing. The Academy Award-winning editor implements quick cuts that influenced similar techniques in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream (2000). One unforgettable sequence shows Cousin Avi traveling from New York to London in a rapid-fire succession of scenes, and those six extremely brief shots evoke some of Aronofsky’s drug-induced sequences. Admittedly, such editing may not be to everybody’s taste, but it allows many characters and several sub-plots to effortlessly enter the narrative without complicating matters. Just like Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996), the opening sequence introduces the protagonists individually, allowing a glimpse into their characteristics. The use of freeze-frames effortlessly emphasise the important elements of the story that don’t necessarily need to be shown.
There’s no denying Snatch is incredibly stylised, but it’s executed in a way that compliments the material. Ritchie’s sense of pacing is impeccable and the camera seems compelled to follow. With a runtime of 104-minutes, the director uses several techniques to keep the story moving faster than a speeding bullet. Tim Maurice-Jones’s (The Woman in Black) cinematography enhances the frenetic editing, humorously capturing all of the action and drama. The diamond heist is a particular highlight and demonstrates Ritchie’s keen eye for visual trickery. During the opening credit sequence, we follow a group of Hasidic Jews travelling through a building through the security footage. The camera slowly moves from one security monitor to another, following their journey like pages from a comic book. As they unleash their weapons it launches into an adrenaline field heist with an explosion of kinetic camerawork. This chaotic tone and directorial flare results in an exciting and fast-paced end product.
After moving away from his roots and making a career directing Hollywood blockbusters, including Disney’s live-action Aladdin (2019), Guy Ritchie made a riveting return to London crime comedy with The Gentlemen (2019). However, Snatch will always be the best example of his work. Although it treads similar ground to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, it deserves its reputation as a modern cult classic. While building on the confidence of his debut, the filmmaker crafted a diamond with this sophomore effort. The tight and clever plot is interspersed with hilarious black comedy and accompanied by incredible performances. During the opening monologue, Turkish asks “what do I know about diamonds?” Well, this film is one.
UK | 2000 | 104 MINUTES | 1:85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Utilising the original aspect ratio of 1:85:1, Snatch showcases a technically proficient 4K restoration. The 2160p Ultra-HD image has been transferred from the original film negatives courtesy of Sony Pictures. Due to its relatively low budget and filming process, Snatch retains a dull and dreary picture quality; but the muted colour palette of greens, grey, and generally overcast tone are faithful to the director’s intended presentation. However, compared to Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray release, there’s a noticeable improvement in the image quality. Perhaps the most striking aspect is the high level of detail during facial close-ups. Brick Top’s eyes are wonderfully magnified behind his glasses, making him appear like an angry fish. Whereas Franky Four Fingers’s prosthetic nose during the heist is clearly noticeable. Black remain inky and shadow detail has received a significant boost with all the darker sequences now appearing clear and visible. There’s a gentle amount of grain throughout but this is always organic and never obtrusive. Although this 4K disc won’t showcase your systems capabilities, it’s a worthy upgrade.
The 4K Ultra HD release of Snatch features several audio tracks with optional English subtitles. Sony Pictures offer the superior Dolby Atmos, along with Dolby True-HD 7.1 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue remains crisp and clean throughout, with Turkish’s narration receiving prioritisation surrounding the rear channels. The soundtrack is absolutely incredible and features a wonderfully eclectic mix of contemporary music. The most notable standouts are “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers and “Dreadlock Holiday” by 10CC. The soundtrack sweeps the soundstage as it intersperses seamlessly with the energetic sequences. The mix also provides some great ambiance during the climactic boxing match. As Brick Top moves through the crowded sports hall, the sound of the raucous crowd changes channels seamlessly in conjunction with the imagery. Additionally, the bass is utilised brilliantly adding some gut-wrenching thuds to the fight sequences.
writer & director: Guy Ritchie.
starring: Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Rade Serbedzja, Alan Ford, Stephen Graham & Vinnie Jones.