As a title, the vulgarity of Snatch is a bit of sleight-of-hand.
Guy Ritchie's speedy, sarcastic, often hilarious follow-up to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels -- almost a remake, in fact -- glories in gaudy vernacular and crass acts performed by a goombah smorgasbord. The 31-year-old writer-director's hard-man characters with liquid tongues and Damon Runyonesque names (Frankie Four-Fingers, One Punch Mickey and Brick Top, to name but three) are hurtled through gantlets of bad behavior and worse language. Among the actors reveling in Ritchie's criss-crosses and doubletalk are Brad Pitt (playing another bare knuckle boxer in a few walloping scenes), Benicio Del Toro as a thief with a bad gambling Jones, Dennis Farina as an American moneyman and several of Ritchie's mates from his first picture, including Jason Statham as Turkish, the film's confused narrator.
Ritchie admits to a fascination with bad guys. "What's quite interesting about the U.K., from a filmmaker's perspective, is because of the class system and because it's so cosmopolitan, that you end up getting these very interesting subcultures. England just happens to be a place that incubates eccentricity. England is an extreme country. The Merchant-Ivory films are rather toffy and posh, which in itself is eccentric. Down the other end of the scale, you've got these tough characters."
His hardcases are as eager to talk shit as fight. In one memorable scene, an enforcer played by the always-glowering Vinnie Jones has a gun out on a pub table, but he's more interesting in skinning a couple of would-be toughs with verbals rather than action.
"I like talkers. I like people who have a sense of poetry, which has been eclipsed from latter-day cinema. I think it's very important that dialogue be allowed to breathe and swank a little. The actors like it, the punters like it, and it injects what I hope is some form of poetry. How much levity is there in the underworld? I'm not a great expert, having not been a criminal." (As for poetry, as much as any other writer-director working today, Ritchie investigates the myriad of potential variations on the f-word.)
Press reports on his first film suggested Ritchie might have grown up in other than "simple" middle-class surroundings, but he cops to a normal childhood today.
"My father's an advertising executive, my mother's a housewife. We never suffered. I'm terribly dyslexic, but everyone has different disabilities. I've got a perverse perspective on this. I quite like being the underdog," says the man who's now married to Madonna. "That creates a hunger which is necessary. All my contemporaries who were academic and had those advantages, I don't know what they're all doing now!"
But was he particularly troubled as a kid? "If you're a kid and you've got things going against you, you've just got to realize those things will go for you someday. I really couldn't read or write until I was 15."
"Find a teenager that didn't have unfocused years," he continues. "I was wandering out like all teenagers, but I wish that someone had told me I shouldn't worry until I was 25. So I could have enjoyed my youth. You're always being beaten over the head with a stick, people telling you, you've got to get a job, you've got to pay the bills. You can bum around for the first 25 years of your life; I just happened to be the type of a person who thought it was a nice round figure, a quarter of a century. You should waste as much of your youth as you possible can. I read it the other day: 'If you don't waste your youth, you waste your youth.'"
So why the tough-guy fixation? "I spent 30 years living in London! I was always caught by the size of their personalities and the fact they were such actors and their stories were so big and bold. There's a film in the making in all of these characters."
With a straight face, Ritchie says his two-film run of gangster pictures is over. He'd like to make a Western, but first up is one about "Islam and Christendom in the 16th century. I'm interested in the dogma of both religions and how they conflict." Of the brutality in his two movies, he says "The level of brutality in either of those films pales to insignificance when it comes to Turks and Christians. Turkish kebabs? The expression comes from what the Turks used to do to Christians when they caught them. They'd peel them, take their skin off, stick a spike up their ass, it'd come out their mouth, they'd stick them on a 20-foot pole, and then they'd erect them like a totem pole. So when they were sieging and attacking the castle, you'd look up and all you'd see is these skinned, peeled bodies. Turkish kebab."