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Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Review by Carrie Gorringe
Posted 12 March 1999

  Written and Directed by Guy Ritchie

Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher,
Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh,
Vinnie Jones, Sting, and P.H. Moriarty.

After last week’s screening of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, I came to the conclusion that many people in Seattle have been drinking too much coffee during the past Prozac Season (known as Winter to the rest of the nation). One of the local film fans, who had obviously imbibed one too many triple-shot, no-foams during his daily routine, took it upon himself to treat the waiting audience to an extemporaneous film review. Said review consisted of the following outburst: "This film rocks, man! You are so lucky to be seeing this film for the first time. I wish I was seeing this film again for the first time!" So amazed was our unknown sage at his own eloquence that, over the next twenty minutes, he broke the normal buzz of pre-film conversation three more times, never once deviating from the script except to add greater emphasis and volume. Reactions were mixed: some just shielded their faces with their coat collars and turned away (the avoiding-the drunk-next-to-you-on-the-bus approach), some wanted to provide him with some Valium (the pharmaceutical approach) and some wanted to avail themselves of the closest-possible Uzi (the critical approach). Fortunately, the individual toddled off into the night before anything could happen, but the episode served as a reminder, if one were necessary, that Seattleites are passionate about film. This week, someone was shot in a suburban Seattle movie theater – for talking during a screening. What others might see as just further evidence of naked aggression and spreading incivility in our society, we here in Seattle would interpret as dedication to the art form. What better place, then, to unspool the latest dark-horse darling from Sundance, a black comedy about a heist gone wrong shot in thirty-six days and with a budget of less than a million dollars?

As a debut film, Lock, Stock has the distinction of looking as if its director, Guy Ritchie, had gotten fifty pounds for every pound he collected; the film’s gritty look stems from the necessity of the setting, not its economics (he should moonlight as a financial advisor, given his obvious talent for stretching a pound past the point of screaming). Moreover, Ritchie is truly a gifted storyteller, able to create sophisticated narratives and characterizations on a dime; Lock, Stock is constructed on a circular platform, involvingthe various interactions of (take a deep breath) four trying-to-do-well friends, one of whom (Moran) fancies himself quite a card shark, a porn king (Moriarty) with a crooked poker game, two thuggish underlings, and a penchant for gun collecting, two antique rifles, a half-million pound debt, three upper-class twits with a lucrative marijuana-growing business, a drug kingpin who also has several thuggish underlings, and the usual treachery, rivalry, and bald-faced incompetence thrown in to make life interesting. Saying anything more would give away the jeweler’s intricacy with which Ritchie assembles all of these discrete elements and keeps them moving in logical, entertaining lockstep, and he even manages to lace the various characters with enough backstory to elevate them above the one-dimensional realm (it also helps to have dedicated and talented people in said roles, most notably former soccer star Vinnie Jones, hilarious in the part of Big Chris, the laconically nasty enforcer). Very occasionally, some of the film’s momentum slows down a wee bit too much, but surviving the traditional peril of the transitional middle section of any story is a challenge for the best of directors, and Ritchie’s ability to slog through it and come out charging is proof of his right to membership in that group. Lock, Stock is a movie for fans of the nuts-and-bolts of storytelling with a flourish to savor. However, be prepared to sit through the entire 110 minutes; if you leave, you’ll be lost, and, if you live in Seattle, don’t try asking the person next to you for a quick synopsis…

Alas, not everything about Lock, Stock is as trouble-free. Ritchie has accumulated some annoying habits from his previous role as a director of commercials which must be lost – and without any hesitation. One hint: using freeze-frames during the opening credits, a la Richard Lester and A Hard Day’s Night, is a charmingly cheeky reference; using the same technique repeatedly in lieu of anything intelligent to say is a bloody pain where a pill won’t reach. Mercifully, the flaws are few. Lock, Stock both rocks and smokes. 

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