Film Review from the Film Gang

February 23rd, 2001- Bill Nichols reviews Snatch

Snatch - Directed by Guy Ritchie

SNATCH brings back to mind some of the enthusiasm an earlier generation of critics had for the American action film.  American writers like Manny Farber, James Agee, Pauline Kael, and French critics about-to-become-filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol celebrated the uncerebral dynamism of silent comedy, gangster films, westerns and film noir that, despite their emphasis on action over contemplation, gave vivid evidence of a philosophy and a world view.  The philosophy came as a by-product; it fell off like beads of water tossed from a swirling head, or like the fog that clung to the metallic surfaces of the urban landscape.  These were visceral films: they grabbed and shook you and made you alive to the moment that stood right smack in front of you.

SNATCH has a similar effect.   In fact, it made me think of a whip.  Not the sadistic whip of a Marquis de Sade, but the dramatic, carnivalesque whip of the circus ringmaster.  Scenes curl back on themselves, they seem to linger or hesitate for a moment, not sure where to go next, and then, Snap!  With the sudden, shuddering crack of a whip the scene hurls itself forward, colliding with our expectations and a plot line that is designed to bend and twist in defiance of all logic and linearity.  

The plot is simple enough but the telling is highly confected: find a fabulous diamond before anyone else.  Some seek it knowingly; some stumble into the path of those seeking it.  No one, though, can control the snap of the director Guy Ritchie’s  whip.  A particularly brilliant moment has a pair of characters throw a bottle from their car.  We hear a crash.  The driver looks around and, whack!—he’s hit a pedestrian.  We cut to another car with other characters we already know.  Splat!—their windshield is hit by the bottle.  They careen into a wall.  We cut to a third character in pursuit of the diamond, a mad Russian, who stumbles into the street seeking those who have abducted him when, Slam!—he’s struck by the first pair of character’s car.  The whip snaps three times as we circle past this one moment in time from three different angles.  

Other actions are heavily truncated such as the trans-Atlantic flight of one character from New York to London, a sequence told with a few whooshes and a handful of MTV edits.  Others, like Brad Pitt’s, our gypsy, bare-knuckled boxing champion’s, battle against killer whale size hulks are stretched and distended until that whip cracks once more and the prolonged, brutal fight comes to a sudden and conclusive end.

Rated R, no doubt because of foul language, nasty forms of brutality and some really bloody boxing mayhem, SNATCH is a good example of a film whose form belies its content.  It has the tone and attitude of a cartoon: irreverent, fresh and frothy.  Characters, especially Brad Pitt, make mincemeat of spoken English.  It surely can give offense and it certainly could disturb younger viewers but I suspect it is younger viewers who would most in sympathy with its energy and irreverence.  SNATCH demonstrates the kind of experience the cinema can still deliver, without mega-budgets and zillions of special effects.  It’s naughty and, unlike the action films of yesteryear, it wants us to know it knows it. 

If we accept that self-consciousness as playful rather than affected, SNATCH delivers the goods. Looking at movies that look at the world, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Bill Nichols.

Copyright Bill Nichols 2001