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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Not a stupid movie

By Francisco Delatorre

Written and directed by Guy Ritchie

With Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, and Jason Statham

Ilove accents, whether it’s British, Scottish, Russian, Italian, German, or, for that matter, anything else. I also like free stuff. So an ideal gift for me is something free that involves people with accents. Thus, when LSC (Lecture Series Committee) had a free sneak preview of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, I had to go.

And, in retrospect, I would pay full price to see this film.

The story is that of four petty criminals, who pool their “earnings” into a high stakes poker game. We soon find, though, that the game is rigged, and not even the card shark among them can save their hard-earned cash. Unfortunately, however, the amount they lose far exceeds the amount they have, and they are given one week to come up with the remaining money. Their plans to acquire the cash clash significantly with the plans of various rival criminal groups, and our heroes find themselves caught in the middle of a circle of violent incompetence and ruthless bloodshed. And it’s funny!

To get the unpleasantries out of the way, the film did have weaknesses that any two-bit reviewer for a school newspaper can pick up on. First, a movie about tooth-and-nail criminals following a bunch of small-time lawbreakers who have stolen their money hardly seems new (True Romance comes to mind, although Lock, Stock is much better). This admittedly simplistic premise is convoluted with a multitude of subplots whose relationship to each other is lost until very near the end. A fair amount of retrospective scrutiny is needed to finally understand the story, but there is a wonderful feeling of “I’ve got it!” at the end. The characters themselves are rather lacking in definition and motivation, and only one character (the father/enforcer) exhibits any semblance of depth.

However, the makeup of the film is clearly not dedicated to formal excellence, and thus we must not analyze it as such. Make no mistake about it, this film is here to entertain, through its sharp dialogue, hilarious situations, carefully chosen soundtrack, and outstanding cinematography. Each character’s strengths and weaknesses (especially weaknesses, given the film’s tag line: “A disgrace to criminals everywhere”) are displayed at the beginning of the film by an external narrator and laid before us. After the formal introductions, we rely on their verbal interaction -- vocal inflections, word choice, and pacing of the dialogue -- to reinforce our perceptions (anyone who can deliver the line “Besides, it’s cheap!” without a humorous context and still make the audience laugh deserves recognition). The dialogue composition and pace are clearly objective; what isn’t told outright is expressed in very succinct terms. Indeed, much of this story is about the telling of stories. As a result, the dry method of speaking and its contrast with both characters and visuals is highly enjoyable.

The eternally complicated storyline, when viewed as a whole, has a sort of detrimental effect on the plot. Follow me here: our heroes buy guns stolen for a loan shark to rob a group of toughies who rob a group of pot growers who grow the weed for another mob boss to whom our heroes are trying to sell the stolen pot in order to pay off the loan shark that wanted to steal the guns in the first place. And that’s leaving out half the cast. However, when viewed individually, the subplots are extremely funny by themselves, and thus add to the film’s overall effect. It is this group of hilarious subplots that may detract from the plot, but they keep the viewer constantly guessing and add tremendously to the film as a whole.

Also adding to the film is its use of music. I remember very little of the original score, because the only music that sticks in my head is the impressive use of well-assembled soundtrack. What is it with the British and Iggy Pop? I’ve never been a big fan of the man, but rarely have I seen “I Wanna Be Your Dog” used as well in a film.

The music, coupled with the cinematography, creates an outstanding visual and aural experience. Working with the music, perhaps driving it, or perhaps driven by it, is the outstanding use of cuts, slow motion, still shots, and perspective. The use of the camera in Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels seems unlike the work of a skilled cameraman; it gives the sense that the camera is living, changing its pace with the mood, adjusting focus and bearing to fit the environment. As Our Man walks away from the poker game, with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” blaring in his and our ears, the camera positions itself inches from his face, following every movement of his head, focusing on his horrified but placid expression, with the environment behind him violently changing; it’s quite a fantastic scene. I can’t say enough about the camerawork and editing without saying too much, however, so I’ll just say this: it is quite a visually stunning ride, without using camera tricks and digital effects to excess.

Of course, as with all films about rivaling criminal elements and innocent fools caught in the middle, the ending inevitably becomes (and I hesitate to use this term, for fear of a film critic mob stringing me up) a Tarantinoesque bloodbath. But I particularly enjoyed the endless ending this film had, with its multiple denouements and the resurgence of the narrator we encountered in the beginning, and the very last moments produce one of the most enjoyable surprises found in a film in a long time.

Overall, I found it highly enjoyable. Ignoring the elements that exhibit weaknesses regarding structure, depth, and morality is a must for this film. Let’s face it: this isn’t the most original premise, and the method of masking this by adding innumerable subplots is somewhat confusing. The characters lack definition, and, of course, let us not forget that everyone in this movie is a criminal. And yet it is one of the most entertaining films I have seen in 1999. And, naturally, any movie with Sting in it can’t be all bad.