Snatch at 20: Two decades on, this British gangster flick remains a masterclass in style over substance

Let’s be brutally honest: there’s nothing all that original about Snatch. Intentionally or not, writer-director Guy Ritchie borrowed liberally from the likes of The Long Good Friday, Pulp Fiction and The General when assembling his 2000 comedy gangster flick – heck, he even recycled plot elements and themes from his own debut feature, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels!

None of this matters, though, because Snatch’s appeal lies less in the story Ritchie tells and more in how he tells it; he’s trading in style over substance here, and boy, is it fun to watch. Indeed, even now, 20 years after it first blasted its way into UK cinemas, Ritchie’s second full-length outing remains a textbook example of how memorable characters, snappy dialogue, and dynamic cinematography and editing can elevate a run-of-the-mill crime caper into a modern classic.

In recognition of Snatch turning the big 2-0, let’s take a closer look at how these three core elements resulted in a cinematic diamond at least as dazzling as the precious rock it revolves around.

Dark underworld, colourful crooks

First up, let’s talk characters. Snatch may take place in a grimy, drab London underworld setting, but it’s filled with the most colourful criminals imaginable.

Every crook in this picture – from Bullet Tooth Tony to Franky Four-Fingers, Brick Top to Boris “The Blade” Yurinov – is a capital-C Character, brought vividly to life by a top-notch ensemble cast. It’s a good thing, too, because Ritchie leans hard on this talented bunch to do most of the emotional heavy lifting in Snatch.

“My name is Turkish. Funny name for an Englishman, I know. My parents to be were on the same plane when it crashed. That’s how they met. They named me after the name of the plane. Not many people are named after a plane crash.”

Turkish, in Snatch

See, as scripted, we don’t have much of a reason to care about boxing promoter Turkish, his gormless partner Tommy, or indeed any of the other flamboyant hoodlums caught up in the knock-on effects of the film’s opening diamond heist; the characters are too thinly drawn for that.

But the acting chops and sheer charisma of those involved – especially Jason Statham and an almost unrecognisable, borderline incomprehensible Brad Pitt – are enough to make us root for their characters over the course of Snatch’s 102-minute runtime.

A script filled with quality “rabbit and pork”

The snappy dialogue they spout doesn’t hurt, either. After all, it’s hard not to like people when they make us laugh – and virtually everyone in Snatch does just that, thanks to Ritchie’s knack for penning hilarious repartee. Sprinkled with enough rhyming slang to make Jamie Oliver blush, Snatch’s screenplay rates among the most quotable from the last two decades.

“Speak English to me, Tony. I thought this country spawned the fucking language, and so far nobody seems to speak it.”

Cousin Avi, in Snatch

Need proof? Drop a reference to “ze Germans” or “sneaky Russian” around a fellow cinephile. Chances are you’ll elicit a knowing chuckle, a further testament to the film’s enduring popularity – and that’s without even getting into the unique delight that is Pitt’s Traveller patois…

In fact, the dialogue in Snatch is so entertaining, it keeps the audience distracted from the movie’s various narrative shortcomings. Seriously: who can be bothered with paltry concerns like structure, payoff or even coherence when zingers like “It’s a four-ton truck, Tyrone. It’s not as if it’s a packet of fucking peanuts, is it?” are popping off every other minute?

Less of a movie than a celluloid shot of adrenaline

However, it takes more than outrageous outlaws and Cockney chatter to overcome unoriginal, anaemic plotting, which is where Ritchie’s secret weapon comes in: kinetic visuals and editing. Typically, when revisiting a 20-year-old flick, you notice that it moves a bit slowly compared to contemporary fare – but not Snatch, which, if anything, feels faster than most modern efforts!

Everything about Snatch – its extreme camera moves, rapid-fire cuts, and use of sound effects and musical cues – is designed to impart a sense of motion and velocity. It’s as if we’re being swept up in the same events as Turkish, Cousin Avi, Sol, Vincent, Mickey, and the rest, and propelled along with them at breakneck speed towards the final act.

True, there’s not much deeper meaning to what we’re looking at; even when Ritchie deploys more symbolic, surrealist flourishes, they function on a purely superficial level (teetering on the brink of unconsciousness is like being submerged in water, geddit?).

But the pure adrenaline rush of it all – which is best described as the cinematic equivalent of crushing several vodka Red Bulls in one sitting – is hard to beat. Ultimately, that’s the key to Snatch’s success: you might not remember the finer details of the story or how its various plot threads intertwine, but you’ll be in no doubt that you had a helluva good time along the way.

There’s nothing criminal about being a crowd pleaser

Sometimes, it’s enough for a movie just to be entertaining; that’s as true today as it was 20 years ago. And when all is said and done, that’s all Ritchie was really trying to do when he unleashed Snatch back in 2000: tell a cracking good yarn that put a smile on peoples’ faces.

And really, is that such a crime?

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook!

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