Guy Ritchie’s feature debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a work of stylized excess and violence. It has a surplus of characters (90% of which are male, female intrusion in the narrative is kept to a minimum), a surplus of narrative, and lots of stylized urban savagery. Its storyline chronicles the trials and tribulations of four “lovable boys” who become embroiled in London’s criminal underworld after a high-stakes card game goes horribly wrong.
Ritchie takes us to a world of violence, gangs, big-money games, strip clubs, drug dealers and so on. Yet, despite the violent overtones, the film is also a comedy. The lack of morality in the characters is vaguely accompanied by “boys will be boys” vibe that makes most of all the characters in the movie get away with murder whilst remaining likable throughout. This is also because the film doesn’t only owe a lot to the youthful successes of the early works of Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle, and the classic British crime movies such as Get Carter and The Italian Job. It also owes much to the British cockney (or “mockney”) stereotypes that have been common in cinema since Charles Chaplin himself – in fact, his Tramp was as morally devious and malicious in his early short film appearances as the characters of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Though the film is shot in nostalgic sepia, making it feel part of a typically British wave of realist movies, it almost entirely opposes the acclaimedBritish social realist approach through an energetic stylization that was definitely informed by Ritchie’s coming-of-age as a director of commercials and music videos. More than anything, Ritchie wanted Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to be both entertaining and real. The cast of working-class-faces are absolutely credible figures of London’s underclass. Pretty boys are severely lacking, and strong British accent – to the point that the film is sometimes screened with subtitles even in other English-speaking countries – are favoured over traditional acting skills. Of these, the casting of notoriously rough footballer Vinnie Jones in one of the film’s leading roles stood out. Distributors in Britain understood the appeal he might have with audiences, particularly the “laddish” audience that the film was aimed at, and centered the marketing of the film around him. The adrenalitic Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels ended up being break-out hit for Ritchie and one of the most famous British movies of its time. – ★★★★
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS || 1998, United Kingdom || Crime || Directed by – Guy Ritchie / Produced by – Matthew Vaughn / Written by – Guy Ritchie / Music by – David A. Hughes, John Murphy / Cinematography – Tim Maurice-Jones / Edited by – Niven Howie / Starring – Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh, Vinnie Jones, Sting / Running time: 106 mins.