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Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

by on 2011/03/23

“It’s been emotional.”

* * * *

This March is all about film noir.’s resident professor Hacker Renders is knocking through gritty noir classics while I am chewing around the fringes of the genre with a series of noir-like and noir-ish features.

It is my way.

Typically I need very little excuse to watch writer/director Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Excuses have previously included “Yay, it’s Tuesday!” or “I heard a Stooges song today.” When Lock, Stock was identified as a neo-noir, I was all over the film like Gloria the catatonic stoner on stinkin’ skunk weed.

Having belatedly attended a crash course on what constitutes a film noir at Hacker Render’s house, I will now employ a more scientific approach to the review of this divine British crime/drama/comedy/heist/stoner classic.

Research question: Is Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels a film noir, neo or otherwise?

According to the crash course, the following ingredients are required to make a deep, dark film noir:

1. Stylish direction. The film noir genre was defined by black and white melodramas in the mid 40s and 50s. Often due to budgetary constraints, the directors and cinematographers who created noir were forced to use inventive film techniques such as extremely long (poorly lit) takes, canted camera or Dutch angles, and point of view (POV) shots. Lock, Stock has these elements to spare.

Witness the high-stakes card game held in a boxing ring, the crooked game that drives the entire plot, for all the lovely visual noirisms. Cards and chips are thrown right at the camera, the action is seen from the perspective of our hapless hero and card shark, Eddy (Nick Moran). And when it all goes to hell, see Eddy lurching from the table, camera bobbing and weaving like a punch-drunk fighter.

Check. One down.

2. Urban setting. This isn’t your Merchant Ivory England. No, bone china cups,  doilies and pastoral vistas here. This is grimy back alley Britain with a drab colour palette of muddy brown, beige, yellow and grubby green. With Lock, Stock, we get a cinéma vérité taste of the hand-to-mouth existence of the trainer and track suit-wearing underclass.

My favourite scene in the entire movie is the opening scene with anti-hero Bacon, played by then relative unknown Jason Statham (The Mechanic) peddling stolen gold chains on the street corner.

“Right. Let’s sort the buyers from the spyers, the needy from the greedy, and those who trust me from the ones who don’t, because if you can’t see value here today, you’re not up here shopping. You’re up here shoplifting. You see these goods? Never seen daylight, moonlight, Israelite. Fanny by the gaslight. Take a bag, c’mon take a bag. I took a bag home last night. Cost me a lot more than ten pound, I can tell you.”

Raw urbanity to spare. Case closed.

3. Seedy, doomed, corrupt characters. Aye, Lock, Stock has them by the moving van full.  It gives us hoods with faces like beautiful Yorkshire puddings. Cases in point – former footballer Vinnie Jones as enforcer Big Chris, bare-knuckle boxing great Lenny McLean as ruthless criminal lieutenant Barry the Baptist. Both were absolutely incredible in this movie and lent powerfully to the film’s authenticity. Sadly, McLean died before Lock, Stock was released.

Femme fatale? Nope. Females are almost as absent from this testosterone fest as they were in Reservoir Dogs. Gloria (Suzy Ratner), the perpetually stoned girlfriend of a runner for a marijuana grow op, is just another couch pillow, more prop than player, until she rises to blast the bad guys Patty Hearst style. Vera Day plays Tanya, the no-nonsense card dealer. Oh yes, there’s one topless lady. No femme fatalisms to be found here.

But seedy and corrupt by the bag full.

4. Flawed heroes. Definitely. Eddy (Moran), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), the germ-obsessed cook, Tom (Jason Flemyng) the fence and poor multitasker, and Bacon (Statham) the fast-talking con man, are flawed but profoundly likeable. These unlucky brothers in arms can’t seem to catch a break even though you find yourself hoping against hope that they do.

5. Shadows and rain. This is a no. Lock, Stock is set in a relatively brightly lit world. And unfortunately we can’t count the grow op’s hydroponics system as rain.

Lock, Stock is a solid four out of five on the noir metre. It is also a four out of five in my heart. I could write another 1,000 words about the soundtrack alone. Don’t stop, don’t think, just “left leg, right leg, your body will follow” and get this soundtrack.

I have two minor beefs about Lock, Stock. The first is the casting of Sting as JD, bar owner and Eddy’s dad. Whenever he took the screen, the beautiful illusion created by Ritchie’s amazing script and brilliant cast was broken. Sure, Sting’s got a steely stare that used to scare school children but surrounded by the real live hard men of this film, he looked completely, famously out of place.

The second beef  is with the epilogue at the end of the film. I wish it had been left ambiguous. To quote the great and terrible author, and noir monster James Ellroy, “Closure is bullsh*t… I would love to find the man who invented closure and shove a giant closure plaque up his a**.”

* * * *

107 minutes

Rated R for language, some bloody violence, nudity, and plenty of guns for show, knives for a pro


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