There was a time when the director of Snatch (2000), Guy Ritchie, was known for gritty, semi-comedic crime films. Today’s film is one of them. However, it and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), which also launched Jason Statham’s career, at some point transcended their cult classic status. What that meant for Guy Ritchie is that he entered the pantheon of Hollywood directors, and seemingly became a slave to the big budgets (and checks) that studios could offer him. With that came a commitment to producing something you would not expect from somebody making movies with enough cockney in it where you might need a translator. If you are familiar with the first two titles mentioned, you might be surprised to know that he not only directed the live action version of Disney’s Aladdin (2019), but he also wrote it. At any rate, let us return to his London roots with Snatch.
Snatch opens with Turkish (Jason Statham) and his best friend Tommy (Stephen Graham) seeking to sell a diamond the size of a fist to Douglas “Doug the Head” Denovitz (Mike Reid). How two unlicensed boxing trainers and promoters came into possession of such a gem is the subject of the film. It is first stolen from Antwerp, Belgium, by a group of men dressed as Hasidic Jews. They use this disguise in order to gain entrance to a jewelry store run by Jews. The stone in question is given to Franky “Four Fingers” (Benicio del Toro), who then takes it to London where he is directed by Abraham “Cousin Avi” Denovitz (Dennis Farina) to see Doug the Head. Meanwhile, one of Franky Four Finger’s partners in crime alerts former Russian agent Boris “The Blade” Yurinov (Rade Šerbedžija) that there is a small fortune being carried around by an inveterate gambler. Boris then seeks out two local jewelers, Sol (Lennie James) and Vinny (Robbie Gee), to stake out the illegal sports book that Franky Four Fingers is sure to patronize while in town, and steal the diamond. He is sure to go there because there is an upcoming unlicensed boxing match featuring Turkish and Tommy’s fighter Gorgeous George (Adam Fogerty) and one of local crime boss and fellow unlicensed boxing promoter “Brick Top” Pulford’s (Alan Ford) guys. Turkish sees this as an opportunity to further his career, but feels he does not have the right facilities. Thus, he sends Tommy, along with Gorgeous George, to a Pikey (Irish gypsies) encampment just outside of town to buy a new caravan. The deal is brokered by Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt), the Pikey leader. Things turn sour when, as Tommy is pulling away with said camper, the back wheels fall off. Tommy demands his money back, or a new vehicle. At first, Mickey remains unmoved, but says he will fight Gorgeous George for it. Tommy takes Mickey for a sucker, but when they get to the bout, Mickey knocks Gorgeous George out cold with one devastating punch. It also means that Gorgeous George cannot fight. Now, Turkish must beg Brick Top for forgiveness, which puts him in the gangster’s debt, a position in which he did not want to be. The only solution he can come up with is to use Mickey, a proposition the Pikey agrees to only when Turkish promises him a new caravan. On the night of the match is when Sol and Vinny stake out the book. Unfortunately, they back into the van in which Franky Four Fingers had been changing, rendering the thief unconscious. Instead, they go in to rob the book, but because of the change in boxers, no more bets were taken and Sol and Vinny leave with nothing except their faces on the security cameras. Still, they were able to get a hold of Franky Four Fingers, who had the diamond in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. Meanwhile, in the bout, Brick Top informs Turkish that he wants Mickey to go down in the fourth round, hoping to profit from the fix. Instead, Mickey downs his opponent in one punch in the first round. Getting back to the diamond, Cousin Avi decides to take matters into his own hands, traveling to London and hiring the enforcer Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) to retrieve the prize from Boris. For his part, Boris murders Franky Four Fingers in order to get the diamond, taking it with him. This is when Brick Top intervenes, finding out about Sol and Vinny from the security footage at the book. In order to save their skins (literally), they inform Brick Top about the diamond, telling him they will get it for him to compensate for their attempted robbery. Brick Top also requests that Turkish use Mickey to fight again, and in order to press home the seriousness of his demands, sets Mickey’s mother’s camper ablaze with her in it. After quite the gun battle, Cousin Avi gets a hold of the diamond, only to have it swallowed by Sol and Vinny’s dog, a pet they had gotten from the Pikeys. When this happens, Cousin Avi accidentally shoots and kills Bullet Tooth, prompting a hasty retreat back to the United States. As for the next fight, Mickey arranges to have Brick Top and his cronies ambushed and disposed of, after not going down in the appointed round. When Turkish and Tommy try to find their campsite, they instead encounter Sol and Vinny’s dog, which had traveled there after running away from their shop. And this brings us back to the beginning, which is also the end.
Snatch relies on stereotypes in order for its audience to understand what is happening. I have made an academic career out of pointing out the problematic nature of using them in film. For this one, many of the negative stereotypes pertain to the way Jews are presented. This goes back to the De Beers company, a Jewish family, once having a veritable monopoly on the diamond trade. Yet, because this is Hollywood, they have to make it seem like a Jewish cultural trait to have an interest in precious gems. Another negative stereotype is in the portrayal of the Pikeys. In fact, I should not be writing the word “Pikey” as it is a pejorative in England. Terminology aside, you see more negative stereotypes come out when Mickey’s mother dies. There is shown an Irish wake where Mickey gets black out drunk. Before this revelry, though, you see a priest sitting with the family, as well as a Crucifix in the room. Further, Mickey has a tattoo of the Last Supper on his back. I am okay with tying Catholicism to the Irish, even if the Irish seem to be trying to cut their ties these days. If you think the Church is having trouble in the United States, you should see the state of things in the Emerald Island. This is unfortunate, and I blame American culture to a certain degree. Though they still do this out of habit, for no other reason seemingly, Irish television pauses at noon for the Angelus. For those unfamiliar, it is a special Marian prayer that is supposed to be said also at 6:00 am and pm. These are not the reasons for the Church decaying in Ireland, nor are characters like what we see in the film. At the same time, there is a parallel to be drawn between how non-Catholics perceive anyone of the Faith, even those who do not practice it honestly, and in turn how they are portrayed. If they are not raving drunkards like Mickey at the wake, then they are likely pedophiles. Like all stereotypes, this is unfair, and it gets me out of bed every morning to continue this blog.
Snatch is violent and vulgar. There is also some nudity in it. As such, I do not recommend it to most audiences. Turkish and Tommy are as close as the film gets to having good guys, though I would not use that description easily. After all, when they are not training fighters for unlicensed (read as unlawful) boxing matches, they are running a small casino. In other words, while they are not feeding victims to pigs like Brick Top, they are still engaged in vice. It does have its clever moments, but you have sit through a lot of material that is not intended to elevate the soul, to say the least.