Gangster Movie Month: "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" Review

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Four London working class stiffs pool their money to put one in a high stakes card game, but things go wrong and they end up owing half a million pounds and having one week to come up with the cash
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Gangster Movie Month: "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" Review

-- Rating: R (strong violence, pervasive language, drug content, sexuality)
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: Mar. 15, 1999
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Genre: Crime/Thriller

The East End of London has been notorious throughout history for its poverty, crime, and overcrowding. Although many UK governments have done a lot to try and ease the East End's reputation and revitalize the area, it is still synonymous with poverty and villainy. This makes it the perfect setting for "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," director Guy Ritchie's feature film debut about a group of friends who go on a crime spree to pay off their debt to a crooked mob boss who will gleefully kill them if they don't pay up.

The film begins with Eddy (Nick Moran), who is good at reading people's reactions when they are playing Poker, giving him a decided advantage over them. He and his friends Tom (Jason Flemyng), Bacon (Jason Statham), and Soap (Dexter Fletcher) plan to attend an illegal, high-stakes card game set up by Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) in order to score some easy cash. Harry is a heartless crime boss who has made most of his money in pornography, and is aided by Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean), who was so named because his favored method of choice for offing his victims is drowning. These aren't the type of men you want to gamble with, but Eddy and friends are tired of being two-bit criminals who only make enough to scrape by. They enter the Poker game, which Harry and Barry have fixed to ensure that all of the players lose. Despite his ace Poker skills, Eddy soon finds himself racked by a half-million pound debt. Harry graciously gives them one week to come up with the cash or pay the consequences.

None of the four have anywhere near that amount of cash or assets, so after much panic and pondering, they decide to rob their neighbor Dog (Frank Harper). Dog and his merry band of criminals are about to rob the associates of marijuana kingpin Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), so they will be flush in cash. The idea is to rob the robbers, which they think will be easy with the right plan. Of course, nothing goes as it aught to, which leads to a series of intense, often comical mishaps as multiple groups of thugs, including Eddy and his gang, begin to battle each other for survival.

It's not often that a director will come out with a debut film that is as flashy, polished, and entertaining as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," so his critical acclaim was well deserved. In fact, he also wrote the screenplay, which is why the film is his vision from start to finish. It's quite a stunning vision, with a fast pace and enough dark humor to match and sometimes offset the bloody violence and chaos. The crime genre is filled with slow, methodical movies that are interesting and entertaining, but in a ponderous way. In contrast, Ritchie's film barrels along at breakneck speed, requiring the audience to really pay attention as they laugh and gasp their way through the film.

Visually, the film owes a debt to the superb 1996 film "Trainspotting," though Ritchie claims that his biggest influence was 1980's "The Long Good Friday." Either way, it is a stunning film to watch, even if the volume is turned off. Ritchie's style, combined with the work of cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones, who was also an unknown at the time, is fun and frenetic at the same time. It's almost as if the two men had chips on their shoulders, and teamed up to make a blistering film that would be arguably the biggest surprise of the year.

The crime genre really needed a new infusion, and this film is exactly the infusion it needed. So many avid movie fans have lamented over how the movie industry, and Hollywood in particular, have run out of ideas. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" proved that the next great idea is always just around the corner, and the director doesn't have to be a graduate of a top film school in order to bring that idea to fruition. Indeed, Ritchie dropped out of school at the tender age of fifteen, and neglected to attend film school because he thought it would make his work boring. The result is a film from an autodidactic writer and director that is quintessentially British. It proves that movie fans don't have to look just to Hollywood, since the film industry is fairly global now. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" came out at just the right time to take advantage of that globalization, creating an international moviemaking superstar in Ritchie.

Rating: 4 out of 5