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Director Guy Ritchie loves belligerence, at least in his movies. (And with his recent marriage to Madonna, maybe in his private life, too.) In the world that he creates on celluloid, nothing's as funny as a smack in the head or a gun in the face or a threat through clenched teeth. His world makes little room for women. It's a world of men being absolutely horrendous to other men. And therein lies the joke: belligerence at its extremes, especially in the services of blatantly stupid and near-sighted causes, can be so absurd that it becomes comedy -- The Three Stooges meet Scarface.

Admittedly, not everyone will like Ritchie's movies. You won't find any sensitivity. There are no beautiful introspective moments. Ritchie has no patience or interest in any of that sappy stuff. He makes movies about men exhibiting some of the worst, most antisocial behavior to ever appear on a movie screen. Ritchie's no Shakespeare. His movies aren't exactly brimming with ideas. But Ritchie loves structure and twists and surprises. He loves using a camera. He loves the stuff of filmmaking. He's not a playwright or a novelist. He's a filmmaker and he revels in how to use the camera to tell his convoluted stories that involve dozens of characters and plots that magically dovetail together in the most unexpected ways imaginable.

For people who want deep profound insights into the human condition, don't look to Ritchie's movies. But if you enjoy watching a filmmaker at work who knows how to use a camera, who uses film editing to surprise us with absurd juxtapositions, and who rips apart chronology in a quest to tell stories in new and exciting ways, then Guy Ritchie is your man. Not since Quentin Tarantino broke loose with Reservoir Dogs has a director fashioned such a marvelously cinematic approach to storytelling.

Ritchie's new movie, Snatch, covers much of the same terrain as his first feature film, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. You'll no doubt hear some critics complaining that Ritchie hasn't grown any as a filmmaker. There's probably some truth in that, but it also strikes me as beside the point. Snatch is a tour de force of cinematic style that smacks you in the face. Sure, Ritchie is liberally cribbing from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. Both movies take us into a seedy world of low-life thieves, assassins, thugs, and penny-ante crooks and then they dazzle us with an array of plot twists so ingenious that it's virtually impossible to tell where the movies are headed until Ritchie rips open his bag of tricks and unleashes the next volley of venom-laced mischief.

This is filmmaking of a remarkably assured and playful variety. And even if Ritchie is plagiarizing himself, he's also exhibiting more filmmaking skill than you'd typically find in a dozen Hollywood-made movies. Neither does Ritchie glamorize any of his criminals. We see nothing but horribly brutal and callous behavior. When we first see Bullet Tooth Tony, he's smashing some guy's head with a car door. BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM! Rinnnnngggggg! (telephone) Bullet Tooth Tony's demeanor changes. He grabs the car phone. "Bon-jour!" Unlike Hollywood cinema, which all-too-frequently makes gun play and violence look attractive, Ritchie creates a world that no one in their right mind would ever want to visit.

Turkish (Jason Statham, who also starred in Lock, Stock) is an amateur boxing promoter and Tommy (Stephen Graham) is his none-too-bright sidekick. They make a play for the big time by agreeing to a deal with local kingpin and pig farm owner Brick Top (Alan Ford). However, Turkish's fighter must take a dive in the third round. Originally, that's not a problem, but then their fighter gets knocked out cold -- and his jaw broken -- by one punch from a gypsy boxer named Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt). They have to find a replacement. The Gypsy seems a logical choice, but every sentence, every word to emerge from his mouth is a horrible mush. "Did you understand a single thing he just said?" asks Turkish. Can the Gypsy be trusted?

At this same time, diamond thief Franky Four Fingers (Benecio del Toro) has arrived in London en route to New York to deliver a diamond as big as a golf ball to his boss Avi (Dennis Farina). However, at the urging of Boris "The Blade" (Rade Sherbedgia), Franky gets sidetracked and agrees to place a bet with a bookie. But it's a set up. A trio of horribly inept crooks (Ade, Robbie Gee, and Lennie James) plan to waylay him at the bookie's office. Hearing that Franky has been sidetracked to place a bet, Avi's eyes grow to the size of saucers. He knows Franky has a gambling addiction. He slams back a shot of whisky and jumps on a jet, totally pissed: "I especially don't like leaving my own country for anything less than sandy beaches and cocktails with little pink hats," he says. (Every mention of Franky and gambling is accompanied by an hilarious mini-montage of Franky surrounded by women, dice, money, and roulette wheels and backed by a chorus of "Viva Las Vegas.") With a horribly vicious strong arm man named Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones, also of Lock, Stock) at his side, Avi searches London for news of Franky's whereabouts.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of additional characters, including an uncontrollable pit bull dog that attacks everything in sight. (Throughout most of the movie, the dog squeaks because of a toy lodged in its throat.) Ritchie introduces each character with a smattering of narration from Turkish and a burst of stop-motion cinematography. The frame freezes on the character and their name is slapped on the screen. This is clearly a movie. Ritchie doesn't want the filmmaking technique to disappear as you're transported into the world of the Turkish, Franky Four Fingers, and the others. Ritchie constantly reminds us that this world has been interpreted by his camera -- that he's a storyteller and film is his medium of choice. As such, the characters become of secondary importance, while the means of telling his story becomes the message in itself. And this is where Ritchie excels. With the gusto of an Alfred Hitchcock or a Sergio Leone or a Pedro Almodovar, Ritchie embraces extravagant cinematic technique and excessive behavior, and he makes a convincing case that the ends justify the means.

Snatch never achieves the same cumulative momentum of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. In comparison, its plot twists (while doozies in their own right) hit lower peaks. In addition, Snatch doesn't have many characters for us to care about -- except for Turkish -- whereas Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels gave us a quartet of male characters to watch as their plans quickly spiraled out-of-control. So whereas Lock, Stock left us cheering for the protagonists to succeed, Snatch leaves us surprised that anyone even survives. As a result, Snatch is a shade less compelling than Lock, Stock but that's splitting hairs. This is an amazing movie.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]

Movie Studio Web site: Screen Gems (SONY.COM)
Movie Web site: Snatch



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