Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

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*. An accelerated culture evolves at the pace of a fruit fly’s lifespan. This film is the son of Trainspotting (1996) and the grandchild of Reservoir Dogs (1992). The slackerish and slightly moronic heroes, the cool music, the hip talk, the crazy camera work, the explosions into hyperviolence . . . by 1998 we knew it all so well. As Roger Ebert noted in his contemporary review, “I sometimes feel, I confess, as if there’s a Tarantino reference in every third movie made these days.”
*. But are the characters here perhaps too moronic? Isn’t it too easy to milk comedy out of dimwittedness? The ganja growers are pot heads. The northern thieves Gary and Dean are slow, at best. And even the gang of friends are pretty dim. At one point Bacon even has trouble subtracting two from five.

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*. I don’t buy the shove that gets the ball rolling. It makes no sense at all that the four friends, however dim, would pool their funds in such a hopeless scheme. Basically they were just making a bet with very little upside (as I understand it they were looking to parlay their 100,000-pound investment into 120,000 pounds), against a dangerously violent gangster who they must have known was running a crooked table. Nothing about Harry’s operation looks the slightest bit legit.
*. I mean, this is, supposedly, Eddy’s gift. He’s not a great card player but he’s “good at reading people.” So why does he fail to read Harry? If that is his game, he should have sensed a trap, known the fix was in.
*. Some of the supporting cast had appeared earlier in The Long Good Friday, and writer-director Guy Ritchie apparently claimed that film as his main influence. I confess I don’t see any influence at all, aside from the cockney parts.
*. Ebert: “we don’t need to be told that the director used to make TV commercials; we figure that out when a cook throws some veggies into water, and the camera shoots up from the bottom of the pot.” I guess that is a giveaway, innit?
*. Anthony Lane thought that Bacon’s delivery in the opening scene was far too slow, but I wonder if Ritchie wanted to slow the cockney down a bit so as not to lose the audience entirely.
*. On the other hand, the sound throughout the film is awful. It doesn’t seem properly synched, and at times is so muddy as to be unintelligible. Is it possible to understand what Big Chris is yelling at Dog as he’s slamming the car door on his head? I couldn’t make out a single word and had to watch the scene over with subtitles.

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*. Speaking of muddy, what of the decision to film everything in hues of yellow and brown? Is that pub lighting?
*. Who is the narrator, Alan? Did I miss something? I don’t think he’s a character in the story.
*. Dedicated to Lenny McLean, the legendary tough guy who plays Barry “the Baptist.” He died just before the film was released and was ill during the filming, but he was only 49. He looks much, much older.
*. It’s interesting that there are no significant female roles at all — the dealer at the card game and the wasted girlfriend of the stoners being the only exceptions I can think of. The four mates have no girlfriends, Chris has a son but no wife, and none of the gangsters have molls. I don’t mind this (in fact, extraneous female characters are a pet peeve of mine), but it is interesting.
*. Stars being born, and they’re hard to miss. Guy Ritchie first, who would go on to nothing else but make a lot of money. Also making debuts are Vinnie Jones as the neolithic Chris and Jason Statham as chief mate. I don’t think Bacon is the chief mate in the script, but Statham does take over.

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*. I think Jones is very good in as Chris, but thought it strange that the film made him out to be the only clear winner, getting away scot-free with all the money. His loyalty to his mouthy brat of a son is his sole redeeming feature, as the rest of the time he is just a thug. The money, in turn, will only allow him to go into the thug business on his own, preying on other down-and-outers. So does Ritchie like this guy?
*. It actually has a pretty tight little script, even if it is an old story. There are hiccups though. Example: The climactic gun fight between the black and white gangs could have involved more people. In fact, I thought it was going to. But the foursome don’t arrive until it is too late and the two hapless northerners never get involved. Dog and Big Chris only interact outside of the main event. So even though everything has been choreographed to bring everyone together at one time and place, they don’t.
*. The ending itself, which is an homage to The Italian Job, has a bit of a tacked-on quality (as I believe it was). But I think it works well, and I think there’s more to it than a mere exercise in style (which is what critics like Ebert and Lane complained of). Yes, the style is the main thing, and it’s all flash and gimmickry, but the script is fun and the supporting cast, especially the heavies, work well.

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