"Shotguns? What, like guns that fire shot?" "Oh, you must be the brain of the operation!" "What d'you do when you're not buying stereos, Nick? Finance revolutions?
"Sorry, didn't know your father." "Never mind son, you just might meet him if you carry on like that." And I could go on and on, mentioning an epiphora-driven monologue involving the act of killing a Greek whose stupidity might be the one saving grace or some snarky remark about Liberia's deficit in a skyrocket. It all comes down to one observation, if there is one deficit Guy Ritchie's "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" doesn't suffer from, is in one-liners. If anything, this is a film that made me aware, in my late teen years, of something called
a screenplay. This is the work of a talented screenwriter, there's no doubt about that.
Now, how about the director's perspective? And how about my appreciation, now that I'm twice the age I was when I first saw it? Well, the film still got it, as far as my enjoyment is concerned, but there are a few buts (and I'm not talking of marijuana cigarette butts or the lovely one belonging to that stripper's who caught the attention of Barry the Baptist, before assigning two Northern slobs some theft job involving the two titular barrels).
So, "but", I was saying.
I don't know if "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" is more about revealing the talent of a British director making his spectacular and stylish debut, or if it more consolidates the status of an American director as the most defining and influential director of his generation, quite a stunt for someone in his mid-30's. While it is obvious that Ritchie has a great way with words and his screenplay features one of the highest ratio of one-liners per minute from any film, it was still Tarantino who exposed that new vision of the underground world, one that would never be afraid to be offensive and raunchy if laughs were the pay-off.
It was easier to embrace that form of entertainment once it was done, so let's give QT the credit he deserves and get back to Ritchie. Indeed, it would be unfair to associate his 1998 hit film only to the influence of Tarantino, you can actually spot many influences that cover a wide range of cinematic genre and directors, you have a nod to Sergio Leone's "For a Few Dollars More", Zorba, you have smart-ass lines like the kind Groucho Marx would deliver, and in fact, the whole movie that seems like a kaleidoscope of all the archetypes nourished from years of movies, poker-games, drug trafficking, caper story, shaggy dog stories and other mix-ups, except that Ritchie used to direct ads' clips.
This might be the one part where he diverges from Tarantino, one started from scratch, mostly through imitating other directors, Ritchie had his own style. And there are instances where you can tell the film is directed like a video clip, or an ad.
"Lock, Stock" is like a big, boisterous, joke whose only purpose is to entertain, and I respect that, because entertainment is Guy's strongest suit. He doesn't even need a main protagonist, the leading quartet, Eddie, Tom, Soap and Bacon, whose most notable presence is Jason Statham and to a lesser extent Tom Flemyng (but to play fair with the cast, let's mention Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher), these guys are all down-on-their-luck outcasts, with one toe in the criminal world, and another in traffics, so benign it would never raise the attention of Scotland Yard. These guys are so 'inoffensive' really that they're not even affected by the bloody chain of events they caused.
And the whole story relies on the four protagonists' luck when it comes to their mission about getting the money to pay for a debt Harry Hatchet (PH Moriarty), or avoiding to get their fingers cut off by Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean), or cross the path of Big Chris, convincingly played by former soccer player Vinnie Jones. It is very ironic that the main concerned one don't ever realize what has happened, and no less ironic that Jason Statham, the ultimate tough guy isn't given enough occasion to be the celebrated bad-ass he is. The film is like a private joke between Ritchie and the audience, because what matters is what we see, who cares about the rest. We don't even see the blood, which is a nice touch that keeps this film in a sort of jolly friendly mood.
Ritchie knows we're familiar with all these archetypes and what he does is providing a little twist, never wasting a moment for a wisecrack and a smart-ass line, it's almost a signature in his films. And it works, because he's like Tarantino, he belongs to the generation of directors influenced by other directors but who demonstrate how much of fans they are by adding a touch of modernity, and this modernity is made of close-ups, slow-mo, shootouts, every trope of the action genre. You can call it "exercise in style", the term isn't to be used negatively, it's got style, it's fun, energetic and crazy. And it's got a terrific casting, too, but it's mostly for Lenny McLean who died shortly after the film and Vinnie Jones that the film works,, honorable mention too for Van Blackwood who with Nick the Greek, form a nice duo.
This is a film that shows a new face for British movies, one that comes right after "Trainspotting", "The Full Monty", a popular British type of movies that completes the work of Tarantino. It's a product of its era that encapsulates the level of creativity reached by directors who didn't have much budget, really one of the gems of the 90's.