Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) — Guy Ritchie arrives on the scene

“When you dance with the devil, you wait for the song to stop.”

ZombieDog’s rating: An adult-oriented cool group movie

ZombieDog’s review: The 1990s was the decade of the independent movie. Independent directors were following their passions and maxing out all their credit cards to produce something they loved. To be sure, there were artistic-type films of very high concept that very few would enjoy, and there were strong dramas with a lot of dialogue that put screenwriters to the test. The strength of the ’90s independent film movement was in revealing skilled directors.

One of the catalysts that help propel the movement was IFC (independent film channel) which started in 1994, followed shortly thereafter by Sundance TV in 1996. The development of these channels showed that there was a market and audience for non-studio films. The awesomeness of the ’90s independent film movement was that there was little if any boundaries. Filmmakers made the movies that they wanted to make and were not beholden to studios.

It was roundabout here that 30-year-old Guy Ritchie decided he would try filmmaking. British-born Ritchie was kicked out of school at age 15 and never went back. I’m not certain what happened to Ritchie in those 15 years between dropping out of school and making Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it must have been intense. I imagine that with a personality such of his, he probably would not have fit into any traditional settings. And whether we have an individual discovering his passion or the passion driving the individual, we as viewers benefit.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is Richie’s first full-length movie. This film truly proves that it’s a privilege to look back on a person’s career so that you’re more able to see the genesis of that creativity. Two Smoking Barrels definitely checks all those boxes of casting, soundtrack, stylized cinematography, and — above all — storylines.

It’s a difficult movie to describe because it’s four separate storylines converging in what can only be described as a hot mess. The movie is about the sort of events from the London criminal underground that go unseen except in the next day’s news. Ritchie shows us a violent, lawless world where it is truly dog-eat-dog. Of course, it’s not entirely reality-based; his films are described as “crime comedies,” although I think that’s a bit watered-down. Two Smoking Barrels comes with a high degree of violence and death, with our main characters stuck in a life-threatening situation.

The beauty here is that Ritchie pulls back the veil and allows us to see what even the characters are unaware of. We see separate groups with their own motivations, acting and reacting to situations that they don’t fully understand with reverberating consequences. It’s about how life goes wrong, and your dreams fail. It’s more than that though, it’s about being in the worst place you can imagine, and a wing and a prayer is your only hope. I do believe if you live long enough you will understand this kind of situation.

Our characters never give up fighting though, and this is what makes them endearing. The skill here is that Ritchie is making a movie filled with nothing but bad guys. Everybody in this movie is a criminal, a killer, or a thief. What’s more, these people have chosen this life. They’re not there by some adverse circumstance; they’re there because it’s who they are.

This film is not a drama- in fact, it is a fun rollercoaster ride of “what will happen next.” The craziness and insanity generated by desperate people is profoundly entertaining when told from the perspective of Guy Ritchie. If this movie was to be judged on casting alone it would still be a great film. Along with a powerful cast of background actors that Ritchie bought back for many of his movies are Sting and first-timer Jason Statham. Statham wasn’t yet the cool character that he developed later, although we can truly see a budding talent.

With no small amount of influence from Quentin Tarantino, Ritchie also fully understands the purpose of soundtracks. He offers up an eclectic mix of classic and modern music that totally works with the subject matter and tone of his film. Even though he was influenced by many, he still developed into one of the most unique directors of our time. I believe there is a very strong argument to be made for letting directors be who they are and make the films they want to make.

Two Smoking Barrels is rough around the edges and very easy to believe that it was somebody’s first attempt at a film. That being said, the complex visual storytelling that is going on shows a director that is clearly capable. In my mind this movie is low-hanging fruit. IMDB rates it at 8.2, and for once, I fully agree. Just think, this movie is 25-years-old at this point and a whole generation has grown up in that time.

One of the privileges I think writing these reviews offers is suggesting great movies that may have faded over time. Guy Ritchie is still making films today, but I think it’s important to remind people to explore directors’ catalogs. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is not Richie’s best film, although it’s not his worst either. (Those films were from the Madonna years.)

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