The feature film debut from writer/director Guy Ritchie still bristles with the same energy and originality felt ten years ago.
When released, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels turned the crime genre on its head, and continued the new found international popularity of modern British cinema, which begun two years earlier thanks to director Danny Boyle and his film Trainspotting.
The film focuses on a group of four friends (Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, and Jason Statham), who find themselves in debt to the tune of $500,000, to porn entrepreneur and dreaded underworld figure “Hatchet” Harry (P.H. Moriarty). With a week to pay, the boys conjure a plan to rob a gang of thieves, who in turn have just robbed the city’s number one marijuana connection, Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood). Concurrently, Hatchet has given the order to a pair of bumbling low level criminals (Jake Abraham and Victor McGuire), to steal a pair of vintage rifles, which –throughout the film - fall into the hands of all parties involved. Keeping track of events is Hatchet’s number one debt collector, Big Chris, played by notorious professional football (as in soccer) player, Vinnie Jones.
For better or worse, Lock, Stock… launched Jones’s career, and was – along with pop music icon Sting –the films biggest draw among a cast of unknowns. This is still the case, with the exception of Jason Statham, who has been busy playing the part of Hollywood’s new favourite action man.
With Lock, Stock…, Ritchie made an impact not only as a visually talented filmmaker, but also as a captivating story teller. He weaves a constantly entertaining –and often funny – plot, often set in the gritty streets of the seedier side of London, that are inhabited by animated blue collar criminals and hustlers, who talk hard, and live even harder.
Distinct English street jargon fills their vocabulary, with a slew of F-bombs dropped at a frequent rate. In one memorable scene, subtitles were needed to clue the viewer as to what the hell they are talking about.
Alongside its spirited and spunky screenplay, the films strength lies in its deft editing, courtesy of Nevin Howie, who scored a BAFTA nomination for his troubles. He and Ritchie keep the film at a lively pace, without sacrificing character or story. For a clearer example, imagine a Robert Altman film on speed.
The highlight is a well crafted sequence, which leads up to a fiery scene where all of Ritchie’s gangster misfits clash. In an inspirational use of soundtrack, Greek tune, The Zorbas, is used to fine effect.
History has shown that some of the greatest filmmakers have made their mark with crime films. From Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, pictures involving gangsters, hustlers, and other varieties of the criminal underworld, have offered directors the chance to show their potential to the masses.
Whether Ritchie will be referred to in the same breath with Scorsese and Tarantino remains to be seen. But as far as directorial debuts go, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is about as good as they come.