Snatch (2000)

D: Guy Ritchie
S: Brad Pitt, Vinnie Jones

Guy Ritchie's latest collage of violent mayhem and profanity will doubtlessly appeal to fans of his previous Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; namely adolescents with the memory capacity of a goldfish and a taste for schoolboy fantasies about gunplay and hard man hijinks. This hyperimagistic, impressionistic display of cheerfully mindless excess is designed to appeal to an audience for whom irony is a way of life. Authenticity is immaterial in a world of Enid Blyton with heavy machine guns such as Ritchie created for his previous opus, and though Snatch is not quite the "Five get Mixed up with Mobsters" that its predecessor was, it still has all the moral self-awareness of an episode of Wacky Races and a sense of its world which extends only to postmodern pastiche. In other words, it has the makings of a sure fire hit.

The convoluted and largely irrelevant plot concerns the adventures of two small time arcade and fight operators who become involved with a variety of sadistic, cartoonish mobsters threatening various forms of harm on them for various reasons. There's the theft of a huge diamond by a group of crooks dressed as Rabbis, there's a series of rigged bare-knuckle prize fights in which Irish traveller Brad Pitt gets roped in with the promise of a new caravan for his Ma, there's a gang of inept black guys who get involved with a dog who swallows things (can you see the connection?), there's an indestructible Russian arms dealer, a bespectacled kingpin who feeds his victims to pigs, and there's Jewish-American mobster Dennis Farina who comes in search of the aforementioned diamond and hires strongarm Vinnie Jones (Gone in 60 Seconds) to help him find it. In fact there's plenty going on to keep those with short attention spans suitably intrigued as various degrees of vicious carnage fill out the screen time. Whether or not any of it has any particular meaning beyond the ephemeral affect of the cinematic moment is another question.

This is an action film in the purest sense of the word, like the recent The Perfect Storm or The 13th Warrior. Plot and character are absolutely secondary to physical activity, which the film aggrandises, fetishisises, and revels in for the sake of itself. Like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, it is technically slick and under complete directorial control despite the impression of chaos it likes to cultivate. Ritchie has already shown that rapid cutting, artificially accelerated and decelerated movement, and the consistent choice of off-kilter camera angles and close-ups gives a sense of restless energy which appeals to its target audience. From the bare knuckle fights with a body-tatooed Brad Pitt to the Run Lola Run-like photomontage cutaway which illustrates one character's predilection for gambling, the film is constantly in motion. As the plot merrily charges towards its contrived resolution, all one takes a way is a sense of visual excitation which in no way relates to any type of social, moral, or psychological context or consequence. Oh yes, there's a revenge plot built in. Sure, there's some miscellaneous stuff about honour among thieves or the lack thereof; oh, and then there's the whole ethnic thing which may offend those prone to offence, but is really not worth worrying much about. Irish travellers always have Francis Barrett - Southpaw to turn to and Ritchie's treatment of black characters is no different here than it was last time out. The Jewish thing is new, and best left for your consideration depending on your own ethnic foundations.

It is arguable that this and other films of its like are merely tongue-in-cheek entertainment and should not be taken seriously. It is difficult to disagree with the latter point, whatever about the former. Playful as it may be, Snatch is extremely violent without a sense of pain, brutal without a sense of human empathy, cruel without a sense of criticism (witness the various scenes of cruelty to animals which seem to be some kind of meaningful symbol but come across merely as decoration), and lacks the sense of evil which permeated the much-criticised Gangster No. 1 or even the interest in character which sustained The Limey. It is morally irresponsible just as its predecessor was and can only contribute to suspicion about the medium's role in society.

Thirty years ago Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was roundly criticised for glamorising violence and was accused of leading directly to copycat murders. That film at least had some sense of outrage and attempted to articulate a social and political point of view on violence (as did even the recent, also much-criticised Fight Club, which also featured Pitt). Snatch has no point of view on anything. It serves no function other than to satisfy the most rudimentary desire to observe moving pictures. Those pictures are well put together, and the film is as good a demonstration of filmmaking craft as most advertisements and rock videos. In many ways it evokes memories of Natural Born Killers. As a product of postmodern cinema, it raises many of the same issues, but Snatch makes Stone's film look profound. It is mindless in the purest sense of the world, the product of a generation lost in a phantasmagoria of performance and referentiality in which the proflimic is also an illusion. It is cinema? Who knows. Is it worth seeing? Not really. Will it win plaudits and admirers on both sides of the Atlantic (double entendre title and all)? Oh yes.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.