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100 Greatest Gangster Films: Snatch, #53

Movie still: Snatch

100 Greatest Gangster Films

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Snatch, #53

This is the second of Guy Ritchie’s madcap mob capers. And Brad Pitt’s performance as Mickey O’Neil, the Irish gypsy, is the biggest reason for watching it.

Movie still: Snatch

Jason Statham, Brad Pitt and Alan Ford in Snatch (2000-R)
©Screen Gems

This is the second of Guy Ritchie’s madcap mob capers.

And Brad Pitt’s performance as Mickey O’Neil, the Irish gypsy, is the biggest reason for watching it.

Pitt is a damn good actor, especially when he is portraying a slightly off-center character. He demonstrated this with his performance as a stoner in True Romance and his turn as a whacked-out, paranoid apostle of doom in Twelve Monkeys. We also liked him in The Mexican, but that’s another story.

One of the pretty-boy actors who came on the scene in the 1990s along with Christian Slater and Johnny Depp, Pitt has succeeded in spite of his looks, not because of them. Pitt brings a cockeyed, can-you-freakin’-believe-it attitude to the screen. And he delivers it here with the often-incomprehensible accent of an Irish pikey, a vagabond traveler who lives life on his own terms.

But that’s part of the joke in Snatch, a comic book-like story of a jewel heist, an illegal boxing match, a gangster who feeds body parts to pigs, violent mobsters, bumbling bookies and a dog.

Told rapid-fire (Ritchie is clearly aiming for the MTV generation) with time overlaps and occasional flashbacks, Snatch works because it doesn’t try to be more than it is.

It’s silly. It’s funny. Sometimes it’s downright hilarious.

The performances by the lead actors—and given the way the story meanders, it’s sometimes hard to say exactly who has the lead—are almost stand-alone pieces. There are dozens of scenes that could be clipped, put up on a website and offered as five-minute comedy spots.

Alan Ford, as Brick Top, the yellow-toothed, pig-feeding crime kingpin, brings a sinister cynicism to his role. His matter-of-fact explanations of life in the underworld are humorous and chilling at the same time.

Take, for example, his ruminations on pigs, told to some hapless bookies who may or may not end up as pig feed.

“They will go through bone like butter,” Brick Top says with a knowing glint in his eye. “So beware of any man who keeps a pig farm.”

Jason Statham, as Turkish, the would-be boxing promoter who narrates the story, brings just the right mix of bravado and naïveté to his character. And several other members of the ensemble cast take turns in the spotlight.

Dennis Farina, as Cousin Avi Denovitz, is the New York hustler clearly out of place in London and totally lost in the city’s turbulent—and to him, incomprehensible—underworld.

Rade Serbedzija is perfect as Boris the Blade, the Russian gangster whose quest for a stolen diamond creates the chaos.

And then there is Benicio Del Toro as gangster and jewel thief Franky Four Fingers.

The movie opens with the theft of an 84-carat diamond in Antwerp.

Franky and his associates dress as Hasidic rabbis to pull off the heist. Along the way, in the character of the rabbi, Franky explains the “error” that led to the virgin birth story in the Bible. The result, he says, is the Catholic Church.

There is no reverence in Snatch, but again, that’s part of the movie’s charm.

Sit back and enjoy.

This is not The Godfather.

But it never tries to be.

HIT: The pacing is frantic, so don’t try to dissect what’s happening. Just let it flow. You can figure it out later.

MISS: The hit above is also the miss. Those who like to follow along and understand all the whys and wherefores as they unfold may find the overlapping plotlines and periodic flashbacks disconcerting.

WHAT THEY WROTE AT THE TIME: “Ritchie began in music videos, and he brings a barreling energy to the whirligig; each sequence seems choreographed for maximum charge. And yet nothing slows a picture down more than nonstop relentlessness. A lot of the exhilaration in this film is indistinguishable from exhaustion. Ritchie’s problem isn’t a lack of ideas; it’s a lack of discrimination. After a while, the various convoluted subplots begin to run into each other and it doesn’t much matter whose head is being bashed in, or who’s on the wrong end of a meat cleaver. Ritchie is so carried away by his facility that he loses sight of why we should bother looking at this spectacle in the first place. This may be one of the hazardous offshoots of the music-video-trained generation of moviemakers; they confuse a diet of eye candy with a full meal.”—Peter Rainer, New York magazine

REALITY CHECK: Those who have been there say that Pitt and the other actors who play the Irish gypsies have captured their accents, their body language and, most importantly, their attitude.

REPEATED WATCHING QUOTIENT: There are enough laughs to make this worth revisiting, either at full length or just to catch a scene or two.

PIVOTAL SCENE: The fire at the gypsy camp that kills Mickey’s mother is Brick Top’s attempt to keep everyone in line. It sets in motion a chain of events that carry the kinetic plot full circle. The first time through, we didn’t see it coming.

CASTING CALL: Ritchie makes a cameo appearance as a man reading a newspaper in one of the bar scenes.

VIOLENCE LEVEL: Very high, but hard to take seriously because the movie is constantly going for the laugh.

“I KNOW THAT GUY”: Stephen Graham, who plays Turkish’s sidekick Tommy, portrayed Shang in Gangs of New York. But he is probably best known to Americans as the young Al Capone in HBO’s latest gangster saga, Boardwalk Empire.

BEST LINE: A toss up between Bullet Tooth Tony’s take on the madness going on around him—“You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity”—and New York-based Cousin Avi’s take on London—“Yes, London. You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary Fuckin’ Poppins. London!”

IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL LIKE: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), which Ritchie also wrote and directed and in which he used some of the same actors, including Ford, Statham and Vinnie Jones.

BODY COUNT: Nineteen.


Join us as we count down the greatest gangster movies of all time — a new entry every Thursday! Click here to see what you’ve missed so far.

[Reprinted from The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies by George Anastasia and Glen Macnow. Available from Running Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.]

The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies

George Anastasia is a crime reporter for the "Philadelphia Inquirer" and author of several books, including "Blood and Honor" which Jimmy Breslin called "the best gangster book ever written." Glen Macnow was a writer for the "Philadelphia Inquirer" and "Detroit Free Press." He is currently a talk-radio host on 610-WIP in Philadelphia. George and Glen have co-authored "The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies."

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