• Director: Guy Ritchie
  • Writer: Guy Ritchie
  • Starring: Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Vinnie Jones, Steven Mackintosh, P.H. Moriarty, Lenny McLean, Nicholas Rowe, Frank Harper, Stephen Marcus, Vas Blackwood, Vera Day, Alan Ford, and Sting
  • Where to Watch: Stream with subscription on Starz app, buy or rent on Amazon Video or YouTube

The new movie Wrath of Man, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jason Statham, is currently in theaters. That inspired me to head back and watch 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which introduced the world to both Ritchie and Statham, along with several other popular British actors, and also randomly has the rock star Sting in it in a bit part for some reason. It essentially began a new genre of Brit-crime pics that is still going today. In fact, sometimes it feels like about four of those later movies, all smooshed together. As such, it is kind of a mess, a feeling exacerbated from an American perspective by the fact that every character speaks in thick lower-class English accents of varying degrees of comprehensibility. This is a movie where you’re just sort of supposed to have a basic working knowledge of Cockney Rhyming Slang to navigate, but even then there’s one scene where Ritchie puts in subtitles as kind of a joke.

The plot is needlessly complicated (there are at least five separate groups of criminals messing with each other, I think), but as far as I can tell the general gist is that a small-time crook (Nick Moran) loses a bunch of money to a crime boss (P.H. Moriarty). He has a bunch of friends who the boss decides are also responsible for the debt. In desperation they decide to try to rob another gang that lives next door to them, because they can hear them through the walls. They discover that the best time to do this is while that gang is robbing another bunch of criminals who are growing marijuana in their basement. None of this particularly works out for anyone, though some people at least get to live through it, which is more than I can say for most of the characters.

In addition to Statham, who plays one of the crook’s friends who are the closest thing to heroes in the movie, this was also the first film appearance for much of the rest of the cast, including Vinnie Jones. Previously famous as a football (soccer) player in the UK, he made a second career as an effective movie tough guy after his retirement. The most practical of the marijuana growers, meanwhile, is played by Steven Mackintosh. I spent the whole movie trying to figure out where I knew him from only to realize afterward that he plays Scrooge’s Nephew Fred in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Everyone in the movie is well cast, though it does I think have about four too many tough English guys with thick accents for most viewers to keep track of.

It’s strange to say given its general mien, but Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has almost no actual blood in it. Lots and lots of people get shot, don’t me wrong, but it mostly refrains from actually showing it. Yet it doesn’t mind copious uses of the word “c**t” or one sequence of a guy getting beaten to death with a large dildo (though the actual beating, again, happens off-screen). The whole thing is shot in this interesting brownish, grainy filter that somehow seems to be the color of the East End in the 90s, or wherever this movie actually is supposed to be. I would end up annoyed if more movies looked like this, and sometimes I am, but it works fine in this very specific instance. It also includes a lengthy soundtrack of extremely specific rock and pop hits that all work very well in their places. The guy losing at cards is scored to “I Want To Be Your Dog” by the Stooges, while a later gunfight is played to theme from Zorba The Greek, for reasons.

Ritchie had made a short film called Hard Case, which attracted the attention of many finance folks as well as Sting, who both chipped in money and took the part of the card sharp’s father. After Lock, Stock made back twenty-something times its budget and became an international hit, he went on to direct the similar-but-higher-budget Snatch a few years later, eventually moving into big blockbusters like the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes (which wears Ritchie’s directorial touch on its sleeve) and even the Disney live-action remake of Aladdin (far less so). In the meantime he was married to Madonna for eight years, and also directed her in the much-reviled Swept Away. Another Hollywood power player today who received his launch from Lock, Stock is Matthew Vaughn, a close friend of Ritchie who served as producer on his first several movies. Vaughn eventually went into directing himself, including several X-Men and Kingsmen movies (again, the latter clearly has at least some DNA from this movie).

So Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is “important” in the sense of introducing the movie world to several new voices that would have big careers over the next few decades. As a movie, it works less in a plot sense and more in the sense of bringing you into a very specific world that most of us (and certainly all of us Americans) have no experience with. By living entirely in that world, it gets away with (1) having no actual “good people” in the entire movie, and also with (2) the fact that I’m not sure that any female characters have any lines at all in the whole movie. Even if they’re not “heroes” like you might want, nearly everyone is somehow “likable,” and because Ritchie and his cast do such a good job modulating the tone that we can get lost in all of this. As Vinnie Jones tells the gang as he leaves for the final time, “It’s been emotional.”


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