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Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels shares two important similarities with Alberto Benigni’s oscar-nominated Life Is Beautiful. They are both in foreign languages, but Benigni’s Italian is far easier to understand than Richie’s East End Cockney English, which renders Lock, Stock… basically incomprehensible for the first thirty minutes or so of the film.
The other similarity is more to the point. Both films force you to endure slow beginnings that have you despairing that you will last through the entire movie. But this is by design. Just about the time you are ready to nudge your companion and motion towards the lobby, both films explode into their own surreal logic. In Life is Beautiful it is the realization that Benigni is heading not for clown school but to a concentration camp; in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels it is the discovery of those two smoking barrels, four actually, that belong to two ancient, antique shotguns that are heisted no less than five times. The first gang gets them the first time, then the second gang takes them from the first gang, but what about the ganja dealers, and then the black guys, and Barry the Baptist and Hatchet Harry, and Big and Little Chris, oh, and the two dumb looking guys who spoil everything, and Nick the Greek and the dead girl who, trust me, isn’t dead at all?
I started out being suspicious about this film and ended up loving it, which might be partly a function of my ears taking awhile to get used to whatever English-similar language they were using, and partly that with the exception of the five black guys everybody else was a working class English skinhead hoodlum in a long leather coat. I couldn’t tell one from another. Even Sting, whose wife is listed as one of the many executive coproducers of this film, was one of these fat pathetic baldies, and if I hadn’t read the promo pack and been waiting to see him on screen I probably wouldn’t have recognized him. Playing a pub owner, Sting was no worse an actor than everyone else was a criminal, but remember the sub-title of this film is "A Disgrace To Criminals Everywhere."
The soundtrack, sans Sting, is first rate – full of James Brown, E-Z Rollers and a particularly brilliant bit where each member of the cast is loading his weapons to the rapidly accelerating bouzouki of Zorba the Greek.
This is an ensemble film where nobody stars, but I especially liked Vas Blackwood as the Morris Day-like Rory Breaker, and Steve Sweeney as Plank, the guy responsible for bringing down the whole shebang in the first place. Standing above everyone was the wonderful and late Lenny McClean who plays the enormous Barry the Baptist, so called because he drowns his victims. McClean, who died soon after filming, was a former World Heavyweight Bare Knuckle Champion undefeated in 3,000 fights, and you won’t have any problem figuring out why.
There are two women in the film, and only one talks, but it’s what the other one, Vera Day, does when she’s not talking that made the audience jump up and cheer.
Guy Ritchie directed, from his own screenplay, a first major film for him. I think his inexperience shows, but in a good way. Nothing was predictable. Camera angles, set pieces, colors and filters, everything was different, which fit the jumpiness of the script. But unlike many directors with heaping amounts of experience, Ritchie knew enough to get out of the way and let the monumental and wonderful last third of the film take over by itself. I never could expect what was going to happen next, and up to and including the very last freeze frame of the movie, I still don’t know. I won’t say any more than that, but don’t expect those two shotguns to just disappear.
Go see this film and bring a friend. It’s violent, but so is Hamlet, and the ending is pretty much the same. I was accompanied by Ms. Self-Admitted Wimp, someone who refuses to watch anything more violent than Mr. Rodgers, but she loved it too. "It’s OK because the violence all comes out even," she said. You’ll laugh out loud, and in the end you’ll be cheering for the good guys, if you can figure out who they are and what language they’re speaking.