After making Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie returns to give us another helping of flashy filmmaking and exaggerated characters. It’s a tale of diamonds, boxing guns and dags. You know, dags. Short little things with wet noses, run around, bite stuff, swallow squeaky toys whole. Don’t speak Irish? I’m talking about dogs. And speaking of dogs, can Ritchie prove himself one of the top dogs when it comes to stylistic filmmaking or is he simply left amidst the crap?
Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Grahm) are trying to make it in the boxing scene. Working with Brick Top (Alan Ford), a lanky old guy who looks innocent enough until you get on his bad side, they provide a boxer for a rigged match. But when Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt), a spirited Irishman, injures their fighter they have to convince Mickey to be their boxer instead. Meanwhile, Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) is transferring a recently stolen diamond until he catches wind of the betting at the local underground boxing matches.
From there the film becomes a serious of convoluted and crazy coincidences as an array of other characters enter into the scene and all try to get a piece of the action while Turkish and Tommy desperately try to get out of it. Guy Ritchie embraces the fact that these kinds of films are a series of coincidences and heightens it to hilarious ends. It knows that the only way to craft such a web of intertwining subplots is to treat it all with a heavy dose of levity.
And while the plot is very self-indulgent you won’t mind because this is one of those films where you just enjoy hanging around these characters. This film is filled with these insane, over the top and memorable characters. Even incident characters that occupy only small portions of the film possess memorable attributes and quirks. And a lot of this comes from Richie’s ability to craft fascinating conversations about mundane moments.
Guy Ritchie gets compared a lot to Quentin Tarantino and I think the common link is the dialogue, which is just as fascinating as Quentin Tarantino’s but perhaps not as quotable. There’s a lot of nuance and verbosity to the dialogue such as when a hit man uses grotesque sexual dialogue to craft an absolutely brilliant monologue on why the two men who have a gun to his head not only have the wrong guy but also uses it to degrade their manliness. Put simply, it’s the best mine is bigger than yours moment in a movie and it has little to do with the actual size.
Sometimes I wonder if the film is a bit racist. Throughout the film Ritchie is distinctly exploiting racial stereotypes to certain ends. A lot of the first half plays us all these Jew wannabes who stole the diamonds, almost suggesting that Jews are simply sophisticated businessmen involved in crime. The Brad Pitt character is among a group of traveling Irishmen, and Ritchie heavily plays up their accents as a running gag and has just about everyone else in the movie declare their hate of Irishmen (although they use a much stronger word for it). And once again Ritchie brings in the most friggin’ stupid group of black characters. Perhaps he’s simply playing up the vices of all these groups and to be honest this actually makes them more endearing and entertaining.
And speaking of entertainment, Guy Ritchie tantalizes us with some more of that crazy cinematography. There’s so much crazy visual stuff going on with the editing, speed and structure that I feel like you could write an entire paper on Ritchie’s style even from his first two films. You have these fantastic transitions where Ritchie spins the image and once it stops you suddenly find yourself somewhere else entirely. Then there are the numerous montages that exist in a matter of seconds and are both humorous and informative. And the film’s best moment is brilliant structured in such a way that we see what appear to be three separate events only to realize they are the exact same event. Usually, such a flamboyant style is off-putting, but everything done here is done for a very good reason.
Guy Ritchie constructs these very messy, flamboyant films but somehow he finds a way to still make it constantly coherent and enjoyable. I really should despise this film as it’s the kind of flashy showmanship that usually grates on me. But the film is never showy for its own sake, there are reasons behind it all and it always feels in service to the narrative and characters. It’s not so much that the style becomes substantial but that it’s used to season an already well made picture.
© 2009 James Blake Ewing