Monday, June 29, 2009

“What do you mean “Look in the dog?”

On the advice of several friends, I sat down and watch Guy Ritchie’s 2000 film Snatch. I was told it was both insane and hilarious, and, curious to watch a Guy Ritchie movie, I figured this was as good a time as any to set my sights on it.

There’s two plots here, actually. The first involves a jewel thief with a big honkin’ diamond stopping in London and several people’s attempts to get the rock. The second involves an underground boxing ring that stumbles upon an unintelligible Irish traveler (“gypsy” or “pikey” if you want to get offensive) who can knock people out in one shot. The plots eventually intersect and unsavory people proceed to do bad things to each other.

Turkish: Jason Statham in a non-action role. Turkish is an underground boxing promoter who somehow ends up arranging a fixed fight with an unhinged gangster/promoter for…some reason or other. He’s the narrator and kind of likable. Kind of. Has a sidekick named Tommy who’s pretty dumb. Doesn’t undergo an arc.

Franky Four Fingers: Benicio Del Toro. A jewel thief who’s disappearance triggers the confluence of bad things happening to bad people in the film. Apparently has a gambling problem, but we never actually see him gamble since he’s written out of the film fairly early.

Avi: Dennis Farina as a Jewish American…crime lord? Businessman? I honestly don’t know. Anyway, the diamond is intended for him, so when Franky goes missing, he becomes very interested in finding out what happened to his valuable item. Doesn’t have a character arc.

Boris the Blade: Rade Sherbedgia is a Russian gangster who is trying to get the diamond for his own interested parties. A violent man with a Rasputin-like durability. Doesn’t have a character arc.

Tyrone/Vinny/Sol: Sol & Vinny run a pawn shop and get hired by Boris to steal the diamond. They bring in the rather large Tyrone as their driver. Vinny gets a gypsy dog that becomes important to the plot, but also eats a squeaky toy, which is one of the funnier gags. The three are overwhelmingly incompetent at being criminals, which is both kind of funny and kind of… awkward, since all three are black and are the only black characters in the movie. They don’t really learn anything, so they don’t get an arc.

Mickey: Brad Pitt as an unintelligible pikey/Irish traveler who lives in a caravan (British for camper) and can knock people out in one punch. He gets involved in the boxing matches, but, well, causes complications when he doesn’t throw the fights. He has an extreme devotion to his mother, always wanting to finagle a new caravan for her. When his mother’s caravan is burned down (with her in it) he gets involved in the fighting again and throws a bloody wrench in the works. I understand that its supposed to be a turning point, but I didn’t really feel anything for three reasons. 1) It doesn’t count as a character arc because he doesn’t learn anything or grow, he just reacts. 2) Its more or less his fault that she dies. 3) I watch Top Gear with some degree of regularity and have seen more than a few episodes of junk-science show Braniac, both of which have caused me to react to the destruction of caravans with uproarious laughter and no small amount of glee.

Brick Top: A gangster who runs a crooked fighting league. Psychopathic, violent, and has the odd quirk of owning a pig farm, where he feeds the bodies of his victims to the piggies so as to dispose of the bodies, which is awfully Green of him. If he had a moustache, he’d be twirling it constantly. Shockingly, he has no character arc either, because he’s always eeeeeeeeeviiiiiilllllll.

Doug the Head: I almost forgot about him. He’s a jewelry dealer who pretends to be Jewish. He’s not very competent either, but doesn’t do a whole lot either.

Bullet-Tooth Tony: Hey look, it’s The Midnight Meat Train’s Vinnie Jones! Tony is an enforcer famous for being shot six times in one fight and not giving a damn until the job was done. He’s also the only character in the film that I remotely liked, which, combined with his general deadpan deadliness makes him this film’s baddest badass. He’s got a Desert Eagle .50, gets quite a few amusing speeches, and enjoys Madonna’s pop music. Sure he doesn’t get an arc because he’s a supporting character called in to help Avi find the diamond, but he’s got two bullets in place of two missing teeth (hence the nom de guerre). He’s really damn likable, and the closest thing to a professional anything in this film.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Guy Ritchie does have some directing chops, I will give him that. He keeps the two plots moving and jumps back and forth, which reminds you that they will converge. There are a couple moments that made me go “wait, what?” Where someone in the above list gets hit by a car, the same exact scene is done a few seconds earlier from a different perspective (the people hitting him) to the cause of them hitting him (namely some other people on the list inadvertently causing it). For some reason the scene didn’t work for me. There’s one scene, where Tyrone is being chased by some goons edited together with dogs chasing a rabbit that was pretty cool.

However, the coolest bit comes in the beginning, during the credits sequence. A group of Orthodox Jews enter a building, as seen on the security cameras, which proceed to track their progress through the building as they talk about this and that. As they leave one area, the camera pans to another screen with the feed from the new area. I realize its kind of awkward describing it, but its an absolutely brilliant moment.

There’s a metric assload of characters, each one with some kind of quirk and zero development. Guy Ritchie wrote the script and I honestly think that there are quite simply too many juggled characters for the movie to handle. As a result, none of them get any kind of attention to their development, and I end up sitting there going “meh” at all of them. This being a crime movie, none of them are really meant to be admirable, but some of them should at least be likable. I mean, Johnny Dangerously had a bunch of shady lowlifes, but they were all well defined and a few of the supporting characters (like Jocko) got some kind of arc. I realize I just compared Snatch. to Johnny Dangerously negatively. I’m just as surprised as you are.

The sound is fantastic in this film. The soundtrack is stylish, quirky and as unhinged as the film. I do have to applaud the novelty of a dog barking and having the sound of a squeaky toy come out at the same time.

I’m going to get hell for this, but in the end, I didn’t like Snatch. because it's a bad movie. Sure, there were entertaining moments, but poor character development leads to not caring about characters, which leads to ambivalence about what happens to them, which leads to detachment from the action and plot. I honestly didn’t care how it was going to end. Sure there was the turn of events with the gypsies, but even then, I didn’t care enough to be pleasantly surprised by the comeuppance it brought. I was entertained enough to smile, but not enough to laugh with frequency. I find myself in an odd position. I can’t recommend it because it under whelmed me, but I can’t pan it because its not a badly made film. That in turn pisses me off at the film, and for that petty reason alone, I can come down on the “not recommend” side of the fence, bringing closure to this text. Let’s move on, shall we?

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