A funny thing happened on the way to the blind spot…
In compiling which dozen films I wanted to cover for this series, I had dozens to choose from. As much as I might seem like the guy who’s seen a ton of films, a quick glimpse at the recent Sight & Sound poll tells me that I still have miles to go before I sleep. However, in settling on just twelve, I wanted to vary up the genres, eras, and “essentiality”. Thus, I decided to include a film that was only 14-years-old on the roster…and it was that decision that might have proved to be a slight mis-step. More on that later.
LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS is the debut feature by Brit director Guy Ritchie. It involves a lot of characters, but at its core are four friends: Bacon, Soap, Tom, and Eddy (Jason Statham, Dexter Fletcher, Jason Flemyng and Nick Moran). Knowing that Eddy is a card sharp, the friends pool together £100,000 in the hopes that Eddy can parlay it into even larger winnings against a local gangster named Harry The Hatchet. Unfortunately for the lads, this doesn’t work out so well, resulting in them not only losing everything, but being and additional £500,000 in debt by the time the dust settles. Attempts to settle accounts involve some stolen drugs, a pair of antique shotguns, and more English hoods than you can shake a stick at.
I should start by saying that I enjoyed LOCK STOCK a great deal. How I’d gone this long without seeing it is a bit of a mystery – especially since my pal Sean The Cheshire Cat is such a huge fan. The film has aged wonderfully given that it’s just under fifteen years old, and one might think “that figures”…but believe me, there are a lot of films from the end of the 20th century that now seem quaint in their stylistic choices.
The comic timing of LOCK STOCK is just as sharp as it was when it first took England by storm, and likewise when it landed on North American shores. The merry-go-round of a caper still sparks a smile, and the witty jokes still land (“It’s turning into a bad day in Bosnia”). Also surprisingly, the film still looks rather handsome. I say “surprisingly”, because this era of indie filmmaking is starting to look grimier and grimier in the age of hi-definition, and because this was a reasonably low-budget indie. As a piece of filmmaking, there wasn’t a single misstep evident, so no – the film chosen wasn’t what I was alluding to earlier.
No, the misstep I referred to was my decision to include it, when clearly not enough time has passed to cast perspective or add much context. What context I did take away is that it is a film that has had a heavy influence on the caper films that followed in the fourteen years since – including many from England specifically. The slow-fast-slow photography is still often employed, so is the too-cool soundtrack. The film’s patois, its look, its swagger, its pace…all of it can be seen in subsequent titles like IN BRUGES, OCEAN’S ELEVEN, and LAYER CAKE. The latter is an amusing example, since its director Matthew Vaughan was LOCK STOCK’s producer.
In some ways, the film handcuffed director Guy Ritchie for the better part of ten years since he seemingly got stuck in a roundabout of remaking it (SNATCH)…trying to prove he could do more (SWEPT AWAY)…curiously remixing it (REVOLVER)…and ultimately re-embracing it (ROCKNROLLA). Ritchie has shown that as a writer and director, he can always get good thongs out of a band of outsiders, and a piece of loot that continually changes hands. One has to wonder if he might have landed a job like SHERLOCK HOLMES faster if he’d stuck to what he was good at. I don’t say that lightly either – what Ritchie is good at, he is really good at. I dare say only TRAINSPOTTING was as influential a British film in the modern era.
Thus the dilemma, trying to soak up and analyze a “modern classic” that feels like I’ve seen it before.
So in trying to get some context on a “modern classic” as Simon Columb would call it, I turned back to Cheshire and asked him what he liked about it. He said:
I think it’s the culmination of all the elements – it’s got all the levels of criminality converging in one film. The dialogue is amazing, it’s filmed not unlike a 70s blaxploitation flick, the pacing is great, the soundtrack is stellar, and the acting spot on (probably because one or two of the actors just might have experience to draw from…). In the end it’s just a film about 4 best friends finding themselves in the most impossible of situations, and coming out squeaky clean at the end.
So, in summation, LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS is a cool and fun movie – and this isn’t a bad thing. The only reason it throws me for a loop is that the series so far has brought me twisted movies, optimistic movies, epic movies, and funny movies. Nothing on the list so far has felt like it could have been made last week, until LOCK STOCK. It reminds me of an oldies station my parents used to listen to in the early 90′s that played “The 50′s, 60′s and 70′s”. I used to always wonder why if we were in the 90′s, this station wasn’t playing 80′s music yet. No I can see why – it was just too soon.
I might have been a bit off base in choosing this film for a retrospective watching-series, but I certainly wasn’t wrong in finally scratching this film off the list of shame. It feels as fresh as the day it was made, and stands head-and-shoulders over all pretenders.
I intend to post my entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for August…
Sean Kelly watched FULL METAL JACKET
Dan Heaton watched WEST SIDE STORY
David from Blueprint has added a capsule for PERSONA
Courtney Small watched RAN
Steve Honeywell watched WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
Bob “Look at Me, I’m Done On Time” Turnbull watched THE SEARCHERS and STAGECOACH
Max watched VIVRE SA VIE