Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels was released in 1998 and was instrumental in getting Guy Ritchie to the attention of the international masses and film fraternity. This was the film which also introduced to the world actors like Vinnie Jones who was a professional footballer before that and Jason Statham who was previously a diver. These men went on to become renowned faces in the international arena and have ever since thrilled audiences and critics alike with their wonderful performances.
The film starts off by introducing us to the principal characters who are Tom (Jason Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Eddy (Nick Moran) and Bacon (Jason Statham). The four friends are adhesive but up to no good and spend their lives finding ways to earn easy money. Soap is the only one out of the lot who is clean and has a valid job in a restaurant. Eddy is a card sharp individual who is rumored to make cards transparent meaning that he can not only count cards but read the opponent’s reactions. This makes him a potent adversary. His father runs a popular bar but he dreams of making some quick money using his prowess. The only place where he can win big is a place called Harry’s. The four friends contribute 25 grands apiece to make a 100 grand cache which Eddy plans to double at the card table of Harry.
Harry, popularly known as Hatchet Harry (P. H. Moriarty) is an unforgiving cheat who would go to any extent to win the matches at his place. He has his eyes set on Eddy’s father’s bar and lures Eddy into a debt which he and his friends now have to pay in 6 days time after he beats Eddy at a rigged card game. Eddy comes out of the game crestfallen and tells his friends about their predicament. In the meantime Harry makes his confidant Barry (Lenny McLean) send a couple of chumps to pick up two antic guns from some old fellow’s place. The two mess up the job badly and bring back all but the two guns that was needed of them. The guns, which are worth a fortune, keep changing hands from one party to another throughout the picture until it ends up halfway down a river at the climax.
desperate to repay their debts, the four friends decide to rob a bunch of guys staying next door led by Diamond Dog(Frank Harper) who in turns are planning to rob a bunch of guys who are growing copious amounts of Ganja in their home. They are known to be soft targets and also have a large stash of cash with them. They are however unaware of the fact that these guys are mere patsies who are only growing the ganja. They are actually protected and run by a guy named Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood). Rory is someone who is shown to burn a guy in a pub over a trivial disagreement. He is as unapologetic as he is cruel. Eddy overhears their conversations and makes a plan of his own. Harry has another pickup guy in big Chris (Vinnie Jones) and his son little Chris who are retrieval experts of the highest order.
They go after retrieving not only the money that the four owe to Harry but also the guns that the chums had lost. They keep popping up all the way throughout the story finally ending up as the only few to have come out of the story alive and wealthy. The paths of these characters crisscross until one fateful accident sets them all on the course to the end if you may call it so. While Chris and little Chris end up with the bag full of cash that the four guys owed Harry, Harry and his associate Barry get shot by the same chums who they had been playing for the gun for so long. Rory in the effort to get back his stash of money and the ganja that was stolen from him goes all guns blazing on the guys who our protagonists robbed and ends up dead, killed by the most inept of guys of the lot. While our four protagonists are let off the hook, Chris and Little Chris officially get into the money lending business to which they were pawns for so long.
Our four protagonists are however still left with the two antic guns which cost a fortune but there is a little problem. They have sent Tom to drown the guns in the river as those guns are the only proof connecting them to a huge number of dead body counts. But they did so without knowing the true worth of the guns. Now that they know it, they call up Tom to stop him from drowning the guns in the river. The film ends precariously as it is not revealed whether Tom actually drowns the guns in the river or receives the call from his friends and stops.
Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is a smashing adventure which lies delicately on the line of being an adventure and a crime drama at the same time. The storytelling is fast and jumps between time frames at many junctures giving you flashbacks of certain scenes making the effects of the current scenes compounded. Consider the scene where we are introduced to the character of Rory. Some scenes prior to that three of our foursome make their way to the Samoan Pub where before they enter, right at the doorsteps, they find a man who is in flames running out. They hardly pay any heed to him. As they move in, they find Rory watching TV at an abnormal volume and request him to turn it down. Rory replies with a cold “no”. Later on while introducing Rory the same scene is brought back showing how the man in the gate caught a fire and is explained that it was Rory himself who set him ablaze over surfing of channel of the TV. It also shows us what great risk our protagonists took requesting him to turn down the volume.
The accident of the cars of our foursome and big Chris is another important sequence. This scene also shows how important that particular accident was as it not only saved the lives of Chris and his son from Diamond Dog who was previously disarmed and humiliatingly taken apart for the bag full of money by Chris, but also brings the bag full of money back to him. He then goes on to use the same money to fuel a career free of crime. Little scenes and sequences convey huge meanings in this film which truly reeks of class all the way through.
The film has some minor subplots which are wonderfully utilized to make important contributions. The two chums who are entrusted with the task of stealing the guns end up killing the main antagonist by the end. It comes in as a huge shock and a matter of relief when Harry dies and it’s a bigger shock to see him loose his life to the most inauspicious characters in the whole film.
The only female characters in the film are a wasted girl who goes by the name of Gloria (Suzy Ratner) who spends most of the film wasted. She has not more than two dialogs but her character attains importance in a scene where she picks up a Bren Gun and wrecks havoc to save the people that she spends most of her time with. She quickly runs out of bullets though and gets punched in the face and knocked down. The other is the judge at the cards game which Eddy looses.
As is customary with almost all Guy Ritchie films, the biggest stars of his film other than the story and screenplay are the actors. Here too you find that even bits and pieces roles are given to top notch actors who with their histrionics are able to raise the stakes of the film and propel it to a height which was otherwise inaccessible. Nick Moran plays Eddie who is a disillusioned youth. He is someone who had high regards for his card skills but is outdone by the foxy Harry and his unscrupulous associate Barry. The game is rigged and he falls in the net like a mouse. He walks into the game all cocky and with a tinz of sarcastic humor for Harry. Post him loosing, the next bit of the sequence is masterfully done showing him almost dozing off which was achieved by a revolving camera movement panning in on the actor’s face depicting his state of mind. Post the defeat which he takes very seriously, there is a sense of discomfort in his essay all the way till the end. He does exceedingly well to transpose that feeling to the viewer through his act.
Jason Statham is Bacon. He is sympathetic to Eddy but he is also very much aware of the dangerous situation that these people are in. He is gasping for breath but still will not rebel against his own friend. He is also the most quick witted of the lot. Jason Flemyng as Tom is outstanding. He is concerned primarily about his own well being. He is also the one who is miser about money and does well to keep the guns, which could put them behind bars, just because they cost him 700 pounds. Dexter Fletcher is a calm and calculated individual who finds his life wrecked by his friends and also his desire to have a little more than what he has already. He is calculative but at the same time he is not the one with weak bladders. Moriarty as the principal antagonist is splendid. He is not only scary but utterly believable. He is menacing and magical in his essay of the character which serves him well. Lenny McLean plays his associate. For those who didn’t know, Lenny McLean was a bare knuckles champion and got sick while shooting for the film. He died soon after the film was released and as a mark of respect, his face was featured on the posters of the film even though he had a shortish role. He really excels in his role and sends shivers down your spine at some of the sequences which were designed to show you his menacing presence.
The editing of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, even though linear has some nice twists and turns which make it more than what the screenplay had to offer to start with. Other than the sequences already discussed, there are scenes and sequences which are elevated primarily because of the way they are edited. There are no sudden and uneven jumps and the narrative flows in a fluid fashion beautifully transcending from one scene to another. The music of the film is in strong keeping with the source material and Ritchie seems to have the right ear for the right tracks at the right places. There are some serious action sequences (mostly shootouts) but they are done with finesse leaving no room for any complaints. The artistic elements are at the fore even in these sequences. The situational comedy is never lost even during the most morbid of situations in the life of the principal characters. The film was shot by Tim Maurice Jones. Jones had previously shot only music videos and when he was offered the chance to shoot a full blown movie he made a go for it. The film’s visuals are an indication to his music video background with racy bits of shots, slow motions, stills and an almost constant maintenance of a sepia tone in the visuals.
Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, paved the way for Ritchie’s foray into the big league. This was the shot in the arm that he needed to show his cinematic prowess to the world. People identified with his brand of humor and entertainment. He blatantly commented that high art cinema of the film institute’s was boring and he couldn’t stand them as they were not entertaining. He had to keep up with those words and had to make a film which would what he meant by entertaining. Starting with Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, he brought in his idea of entertainment to the screen. He made films which made the viewers put in their minds into the narrative not to unravel facts but to keep up with the breakneck speed and almost devouring amount of material that each of his films had to offer.
Producer Trudie Styler candidly accepted in an interview that when she read the script of the film she didn’t find it to be very well scripted or presented. There were a terrible number of typos and the director behind it had no film school experience and had only made a short film before that. The stakes were high and the odds were not in his favor but Ritchie was able to deliver a knockout punch with his first feature length film. It was heaped with critical acclaim and became a baby of the fans. This was one film which demanded repeat viewing and as I had put forth earlier, this attribute, which he cultured with his very first film has stayed with him ever since, His films have a great re-see value. That is one attribute which isn’t commonplace with directors of today.