Testosterone freak show

Guy Ritchie’s Snatch zooms by like Tarantino on amphetamines

Brian D. Johnson January 22 2001

Testosterone freak show

Guy Ritchie’s Snatch zooms by like Tarantino on amphetamines

Brian D. Johnson January 22 2001

Testosterone freak show

Brian D. Johnson

Guy Ritchie’s Snatch zooms by like Tarantino on amphetamines

Anyone curious to know what sort of mind Madonna chose to marry last month might want to take a peek at Snatch, the hot new movie by Guy Ritchie. If Madonna is the compulsive fashionista forever upgrading pop culture's sexual software, her new husband is the renegade director with the last word in burlesque violence—England’s answer to Quentin Tarantino. Snatch zooms by like Tarantino on amphetamines. A helter-skelter ride through the crude vernacular of British gangsterism, this movie is not directed so much as deejayed.

After the cult success of his 1998 feature, the frenzied Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie had Hollywood knocking at his door. But he turned down offers to direct Charlies Angels and Gone in Sixty Seconds and stayed home to make another small-time, madcap comedy set in the London underworld. Snatch explodes with the same hectic energy as Lock, Stock, but it’s a better film, with a richer ensemble cast. And its secret weapon is Brad Pitt—who turned down roles in Almost Famous and The Legend of Bagger Vance to scuff up his pretty-boy image and work for a director whose entire budget was less than half the actors usual $20-million (U.S.) fee.

Smart move. Playing a bare-knuckled boxer, Pitt is not just reprising his role in Fight Club. As an Irish

gypsy who speaks in a hilariously incomprehensible accent, he gives the shrewdest performance of his career. These days, apparendy, there’s nothing cooler for an American actor than to be an Irish gypsy—Johnny Depp plays one in Chocolat.

Ritchie, meanwhile, has made the ultimate Guy Movie, a macho comedy of errors in which there are no good guys, just criminals who come in various shades of stupid and cruel, smashing each other up in a Darwinian free-for-all. Despite the vulgar promise of the title, there are virtually no women: Snatch refers to a diamond. The plot is a carnival involving dogfights, illegal boxing matches, a huge stolen diamond and a testosterone freak show of gangsters. They include an American jewel thief named Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro); the ruthless Avi (Dennis Farina), his Jewish boss in

New York; Boris The Blade (Rade Serbedzija), a Russian gangster who is “as bent as the Soviet sickle and as hard as the hammer that crosses it”; a trio of bumbling black men who try to rob him; a pair of novice boxing promoters who ask Pitt’s uncontrollable gypsy to take a fall in a boxing match; and underworld kingpin Brick Top (Alan Ford), who likes to kill men with his dogs and feed them to his pigs—“they go through bones like butter.”

The onslaught of hard stereotypes may not be to everyone’s taste. But Ritchie’s script colours them with a savage wit. When Avi calls Russians “anti-Semite, slippery, Cossack sluts,” somehow the joke goes beyond racism. And most of the humour is at the expense of the English, with their bewildering riddle of dialects. (“I thought this country spawned the f-—g language,” growls Avi, “and so far nobody seems to

speak it.”) In fact, the two actors who steal this stubbornly British movie are Americans—Farina, flying in from Elmore Leonard land, and Pitt, sending up the whole business of accent by being perversely unintelligible.

Watching Snatch is like listening to rap by Eminem. Trying to decode the machine-gun dialogue, and sort out the ethics, is part of the fun. Ritchie also uses turntable rhythms to mix his images. Against techno dance music, he cuts between a hound chasing a fox through a meadow and two Dobermans cornering a black man in a pit—a throwaway portrait of English class society that could not be more succinct.

You can see why Madonna, queen of arrivistes, loves the guy. Like a Jamesian heroine on the loose in the Old World, she has rounded her vowels, declared England to be more civilized than America, and in Ritchie found her prince, an aristocratic dropout who grew up foxhunting and has now slummed his way to the top. In Snatch, he pays her a winking homage as her song Lucky Star plays on the car radio while the driver drags a man along the sidewalk, his head caught in the window. Civilization doesn’t get any better than that. No wonder Robert De Niro, who has bought a $7-million pad in London, finds the place so appealing.