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Non-Review Review: Snatch

The wonderful folks over at the Jameson Cult Film Club were polite enough to sneak me into their screening of Snatch. It was my first time attending a screening organised by the team, and I was genuinely impressed. seriously, if you live in Ireland and are a film buff, do yourself a favour and pop over to sign on up. They transformed the Tivoli Theatre into a series of sets from the film, with an open trailer park out the back, a boxing ring inside and lovely bit of flavour throughout. It really was a fantastic evening, and the crew deserve a huge amount of kudos for pulling it off in such style. Hell, they even got actors impersonating the characters to introduce the film, with a Brad Pitt impersonator telling us to turn off our phones with the help of subtitles. I honestly think it might be the closest I’ve ever been to living inside a film, and I’ve been to Disneyland.

But enough about the truly fantastic job the guys did putting the evening together, with occasionally live action complimenting the scenes projected on the big screen, or the helpful infographs and text appearing on the side of Mickey’s caravan. Let’s talk about Ritchie’s Snatch. Because I actually hold a very shocking opinion on the film. I honestly and truly believe that Snatch stands as the director’s strongest accomplishment to date, rather than Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I know it’s crazy, and I’m not sure I can justify it, but I think it’s the only time that ritchie’s kinetic style has ever been in full communion with the film.

It’s a bit of a laboured comparison, but Snatch is perhaps best described as a Cockney Pulp Fiction, in that its similar in structure and tone to Tarantino’s masterpiece. It’s essentially a series of tangentially-related adventures that occasionally overlap in unexpected and unconventional ways, giving the viewers the necessary information to piece together a jigsaw obscured to the characters within. There’s also all manner of other similarities that it’s hard to believe weren’t intentional, from fixed boxing matches that go awry to a precious object hidden in a living creature’s food canal, not to mention the long, rambling, vulgar, stream-of-consciousness, yet curiously insightful observations that emerge from the characters trapped inside a dark comedy of errors. Sure, Vinny Jones discussing which part of the male anatomy stands in front of him might not be quite as lyrical as Christopher Walken describing where to hide a watch, but the similarities are there to be seen.

With Ritchie’s film, the joy doesn’t lie so much with the plot, which is essentially a perfect storm of bad luck and incompetence on the part of almost every member of the cast until things resolve themselves, but in watching the characters and actors collide like so many billiard balls across green felt. They collide and alter one another’s trajectories, until they end up so far from where they planned to be that it’s simply hilarious to watch them attempt to recover. Ritchie’s gangland London is populated with characters who have names like “Bullet-Tooth Tony” and “Boris the Blade”, all played by actors who have their characters down. Vinnie Jones might not be the next Olivier, but he does slick Cockney charm without breaking a sweat.

There’s no denying the skill on display. So much of the film’s charm rests on its distinctive Cockney feel and wry British timing, despite its somewhat gruff charm, it needs to move like a ballet, and it needs a cast of actors who can work effortlessly off one another, making the lines sound simultaneously ridiculous, hilarious and effective. Jason Statham might be at his very best here, playing our narrator who clearly has the gift of the gab, explaining the story to us as if twisting our ear at the local pub. It’s great to see veterans like Dennis Farina and Rade Šerbedžija having fun with old geezers like Mike Reid and Alan Ford.

However, the most frequently discussed member of the cast, and the one everybody is really talking about when they talk about the film, is Brad Pitt as Mickey, the Irish Traveller boxer. It’s the kind of role that could too easily turn into a “take me seriously as an actor” footnote in a career of a stunningly handsome Irish actor, but Pitt genuinely swings for the fences with the character. Daring to take a role where most of your dialogue is almost (but not quite) intelligible is a risky move, and Pitt does a remarkable turn in the role. I honestly think that Snatch may stand as the actor’s strongest performance. If it isn’t, it’s certainly his most fun.

There are some minor problems. At times, especially near the start, it seems like the film is being just a little bit too flash for its own good. Ritchie’s opening sequence is deftly edited together, but there are moments when the film seems to have far too short an attention span. It helps that it’s essentially a large ensemble piece, and that he has a large cast of characters to cut back and forth around.

A more serious problem, is the film’s ending, which really just smacks of contrived coincidence, and of Ritchie deciding to cut the film at that particular point. It’s not that the resolution doesn’t work in context, or that it’s unpredictable, it just sorta happens that our characters are lifted right out of the mess in the same arbitrary manner they were dropped in it. I realise that demonstrates the randomness of it all, but it still feels a bit like a jolt, and gives us two leads (because, even in an ensemble piece, Statham and Stephen Graham are leads) who wander around a lot, but essentially act as passengers.

Still, these are minor complaints. In short, Snatch is a British crime thriller well worth your time. That’s the jackanory.

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