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'Snatch': A Criminally Good Film

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 19, 2001


    'Snatch' Brad Pitt, second from left, has tea with the Gypsy brood in "Snatch." (Screen Gems)
'Snatch" is a steel-toed boot in your soft parts. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

But this kinetic, hardcore caper, starring Benicio Del Toro, Brad Pitt and a near-stadium full of cockneys and other Brits, doesn't make you double up with pain. It liberates you, shows you freedoms you never thought possible on the screen. That's what blows you away: that this stuff is allowed.

I mean, this is a movie that demands an elastic appreciation for black comedy. Hacking off someone's arm with a butcher's knife can be funny -- really. And then there's Brick Top (Alan Ford), a ruthless boxing promoter who feeds his victims to his pigs. In a minutely detailed monologue, he explains to a pair of shocked listeners just how many pigs it takes (16) to dispose of a hacked up human body.

I did mention it's a comedy, right?

And just in case you haven't figured it out already, the bloke responsible is writer-director Guy Ritchie, creator of cult hit "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," also known, now, as Madonna's husband. But ignore the Madonna part. He's a bruiser of a talent -- a punk with a gift for visceral, flowing cinema.

Like his smash debut "Lock, Stock," Ritchie's latest movie is a rush-hour, a pileup, a maelstrom of subplots, full of colorful characters, all of them pretty much after the same thing: a very expensive rock.

This diamond starts in the hands of Franky Four Fingers (Del Toro), who nicks (steals) it from a jewel company in New York, then goes to London. From then on, I'd need flow charts to lay out the full story. But here are the basics:

When Franky comes to London to offload some stolen diamonds, he's still carrying that mega-rock, which is ultimately bound for his boss (Dennis Farina) in New York City. When Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia) gets wind of Franky's diamond, he sets Franky up, telling him to gamble on a sure thing: a fixed fight at a bare-knuckles boxing match.

Boris sends a trio of henchmen -- Vinny (Robbie Gee), Sol (Lennie James) and tubby getaway driver Tyrone (Ade) to intercept Franky at the bookie's and score that stone.

Meanwhile boxing promoter Turkish (Jason Statham) and his mate, Tommy (Stephen Graham), are trying to break into the gangster big time by arranging a fight through Brick Top.

This being a Guy Ritchie film, things go terribly wrong for everyone. Everyone. Vinny and company don't get that diamond because of other interested parties. And in an unfortunate incident at a Gypsy campground, Turkish's boxer gets a fast trip to that boxing ring in the sky, courtesy of Gypsy boxer Mickey O'Neil (Pitt). Although Mickey agrees to substitute for Turkish's dead boxer, he's very much his own man.

So when Brick Top orders Mickey to take a fall in the fourth, well, there's going to be trouble. You don't want to disappoint Brick Top, you really don't. But then again, you'd be daft to order Mickey around.

As if there weren't enough people trying to throw fights, win fights or steal diamonds, Franky's boss from New York gets into the act. Hearing that his diamond is missing, he's not about to wait for good luck to get it back. So he turns to the meanest, coolest troubleshooter in London, Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones).

Although the plot is crucial, it's the interaction among characters that makes "Snatch" percolate. Ritchie knows when to stop and smell the comedy.

At one point, Tyrone, the overweight getaway driver, is driving Sol and Vinny, when he stops the car to hop out. Getting out of the cramped driver's seat is quite a struggle for the big fellow, especially in his bulky, squeaky leather jacket. Sol looks at his partner Vinny with horror.

"I thought you said he was a getaway driver," Sol says. "What the [expletive] can he get away from?"

In case you thought Pitt was a Hollywood star just slumming through, think again. He's the central force of the story as Mickey, a ripped, booze-ignited Piker (slang for Gypsy), who turns the tables on everyone. And his accent -- intentionally impossible to decipher -- is hilarious.

"It's not English," says Turkish of Mickey's brogue. "It's not Irish. It's Piker."

There are countless moments like this, too many to recall. "Snatch" pulsates with anything-goes bravado, as if Ritchie's trying to make up for an entire century of conventional movies. He seems to have made it a personal badge of honor to avoid one microsecond of dull exposition. So if stories don't happen fast, funny and powerful enough for you in the movies, push your way into the queue. This flick's for you.

"Snatch" (R, 103 minutes) – Contains nonstop violence and obscenity, debilitating sarcasm and a bit of nudity.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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