By Henry L Shorney (Los Angeles)
Fond memories—and the convenience on Netflix—encouraged me to revisit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels over this past weekend. This movie is a complete and utter disaster, but somehow it works. Do not go in expecting something along the lines of one of Guy Ritchie’s most recent features: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. This movie bares almost no resemblance of those polished, cliché Hollywood features; instead it is gritty, flawed, and exciting. Features like this one can only come at the beginning of a talented director’s career. Although packed with intersecting plot lines, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels generally revolves around four crooks who find themselves in serious debt to a dangerous man.
This film creates a vivid picture of the downtrodden British underworld. It does this through employing an anti-aesthetic aesthetic. By this I mean, it was intentionally made to appear cheap and unpolished. Choosing to shoot a film this way is certainly beneficial for budgetary reasons, but it also lends itself to the story. Imagine seeing this movie all glossed-up, it just simply would not work. Not to mention, and I do not want to speak for everyone here, but there is no need to see these actors in any greater detail. If it’s Armie Hammer, fine, give me the glam shot, but Jason Statham, I’ll take a pass. What truly shines through in this movie is Guy Ritchie’s ability as a director.
In the opening chase sequence, we see what has become sort of a Guy Ritchie trademark, the slow-motion shot. He contrasts this with the fast motion of the chase and it creates a beautiful and tense moment where time almost holds still. This lets the tension build and allows the viewer to absorb the action. Another scene where Ritchie uses this technique, is when the marijuana growers are being robbed. Just when all hope seems to be lost, the growers drugged out friend awakens from her trance and picks up the machine gun sitting in from of her. She proceeds to unload the weapon in the direction of the robbers.
Ritchie contrasts the rapid firing of the weapon with the slow-motion of the robbers diving out of sight. This technique also lends a comedic element to the scene as we watch the robbers glide through the air in a desperate attempt to avoid the gunshots. Ritchie has a talent for shooting action and most of the movie consists of building up to these spurts of tension, which all culminate in the end. The final scene is hands down my favorite in the movie. The cross-cutting between Tom dumping the guns and the others trying to call him is unbearably tense and hilarious. It makes you want to jump in the screen and stop him, but all you can do is sit back and let this last farce play out.
The icing on the cake is the freeze-frame zoom-out leaving you with the final image of Tom hanging over the railing with a phone in his mouth. This shot makes you crave more of the rollercoaster you just endured and may even encourage you to watch it again a few years later. Guy Ritchie’s inaugural feature established him as a director with a bright future ahead of him. As we now know, he lived up to those expectations with his follow-up feature Snatch and later the Sherlock Holmes movies starring the great Robert Downey Jr.