Saturday, October 9, 2010

That Guy Ritchie

          Chances are, if you are watching a film and suddenly a bunch of buddies with British accents fly across the screen while the camera barrel rolls under falling shotgun shells with loud heavy music cranking in the background, you’re watching a Guy Ritchie movie.

          That’s roaight, mate.

          Ten years ago, he took the world by surprise with his independent film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, grabbing #38 on the well-respected British magazine Total Film’s best Brit films of all time.[1]  Incidentally, he later married (and recently divorced) his sponsor for the film: Madonna.[2]

          Lock, Stock well deserved all the fame it got.  With slick writing, hilarious fun, in-your-face violence, and a rockin’ score to boot, it more than put Ritchie on the map, securing Hollywood contracts for him for the rest of his life.

          His cinematography was new, gritty, and fun; his acting direction superb.  It was Ritchie’s Lock, Stock that introduced the world to its new action hero: world class diver and martial artist Jason Statham[3], whose backflip in Smoking Barrels, along with most of his stunts, was his own.

          In one of the best “buddy” films you will ever see, Statham and pals shoot, play, and drink their way through a rowdy underworld adventure, with acting chemistry that could only be the work of a fresh, highly-talented director.
          Who would have known that same director was dyslexic, expelled from high school, and skipped film school because all the ex-student films were “boring”?[4]  Truth to that: Spielberg also dropped out of college and went back to graduate during the success of his 21st blockbuster Minority Report (three decades and four Oscars later)[5], to appease his father and reassure his kids.  (Quentin Tarantino also skipped film school.)  And speaking of ex-film student bore, am I alone to love the Cohen brothers’ movies but get that “we tried to make it perfect” annoying feeling when I watch them?

          In any case, after Lock, Stock earned him MTV’s Best New Filmmaker Award[ibid], Hollywood went to Guy with top actors such as Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Benicio Del Torro for his Snatch, another fast-paced stylist caper.  Pitt’s performance as the “ideally cast Irishman whose accent is so thick even Brits can’t understand him,”[6] a similar strength he showed in his Devil’s Own role opposite Harrison Ford, gives a powerful punch to the film as the surprising fighter.  Ritchie’s resolution of the film combining underwater film techniques with fight slo-mo is like nothing you have ever seen and truly knocks your socks off!

          But Guy’s films began to lose their newness after that.  His 2008 RocknRolla, though visually stimulating with a smart Tom Wilkinson, replays the same tricks that Guy showed us in Snatch and Lock, Stock: criminal buddies against a high-rise mob boss who screwed them in the first place with various queers and quirks in the mix.  (Although this time, one of those is the hot and talented Thandie Newton.)  Gerard Butler takes the lead but fails to convince as the action serial hot rod.  We almost imagine his Phantom mask to magically appear along with his bloodied Spartan 300 sword.

          RnR’s greatest moment was its end: a relief from the cliché we all knew was now Ritchie’s own; but at the same time, a truly masterful tease for a second film we perhaps doubt could win us over.

          Which brings us Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie’s biggest box office hit by far raking in over $500 million[7], second that year only to James Cameron’s Avatar, which beat his own Titanic as the current top overall grosser.  Guy seemed the natural directorial pick for Holmes due to the overlaying themes of his films: crime and London.  Ritchie’s vision of the film was “very contemporary as far as the tone and texture,” being “a relatively long time since there’s been a film version that people embraced.”[ibid]

          Embraced it was, by movie goers at least.  Downey, Jr.’s masterful acting gave a new lease on life to the character many envision to be tall, rigid, and un-fun.  (I especially enjoyed the Ritchie-Downey pre-fight monologues.)

“The less I thought about Sherlock Holmes, the more I liked [it],” said The Sun Time’s Roger Ebert, perhaps the most respected critic in the business.

“[It] is cheerfully revisionist,” he said, commenting on the modern spin, “The great detective, who has survived so much, can certainly shrug off a few special effects.”[8]

Special effects are the first of Richie’s dangers.  At 41 years old, Ritchie is poised for a long and continuously successful film career.  His fans are ravenous, but will eat him up if he succumbs to the crutches of overly-CG spectacles and if he won’t stop writing himself into the wall of his own re-used plot.

It seems this talented filmmaker, the acclaimed screenwriter of Christopher Nolan’s complicated Memento, has a lot of new tricks still to pull.  And as anticipation for his 2011 Sherlock sequel mounts Rotten Tomatoes charts at 93,[9] we hope all his upcoming films will prove his masterful work thus far to have been “elementary.”


  1. I really enjoyed "Sherlock Holmes", so I guess I better get "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels". Thanks for an interesting and informative post - I've been away from cinema for a while, so you are really helping me to connect the dots between films of which I'd mostly just heard the names...

  2. Wow!! are a great writer!!! It is all over my head but my 4 sons love all this action packed stuff and enjoyed Sherlock...I haven't seen it favorite movie is 13 Going on 30!! LOL!!! I'm impressed...LYL!!!

  3. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments, Fr Matthew, Mrs. Simpson. Glad you enjoyed them.

    I've been away for a while myself, but have always valued the importance of film art, and am catching up pretty quick.

    Just a reminder, I am 24 going on 25 so though I try to be objective, it is a blog (subjective) and art (philosophical can of worms) we are talking about so, in short: if our tastes in films differ, I am not at all surprised.

    Glad to get my own opinion out there though. But have fun with the blog & keep reading. Thanks again.

  4. Regarding differing tastes, that's pretty much a given for any reviewer regardless of age. I have often disagreed with well-established reviewers who, at times, have (IMHO) missed the boat completely. So, I'll find out whether or not I agree with you when I see the films, but you certainly sound like you know what you're talking about! For the moment you get the benefit of the doubt.

  5. Ha! Thanks Fr Matthew. Too true.

    I respect Roger Ebert a lot and keep an eye out for what Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) has to say (usually on the front of DVD covers), with an eye on Steve Greydanus (National Catholic Register).

    I don't take Larry King too seriously. He seems to react enthusiastically about most of the movies he's asked to comment on. Probably because that's just what comes out on a talk show/from a talk show host.

    I like the secular reviewers better than the self-marked Catholic/Christian ones, though. The secular ones take the art as it is, so if it's a Christian movie and it sucks, they will just tell you it sucks. Whereas, 9 times out of 10, the "Christian" dude will do just the opposite just b/c it's "Christian." Barf.

    Moral order is the purpose of art, but that is the topic of a different conversation. In a world where morality is argued (the understatement of the century), one thing is true: beauty, the transcendental, can be perceived by all, though people will differ on what they say is beautiful.

    Still, I would find it hard to find someone tell me Shelob (the spider from "The Lord of the Rings") is more attractive than Angelina Jolie and not be taken as a complete wierdo. So also, the reviewer who considers Russell Crowe's new "Robin Hood" film (long barf) superior to his Oscar winning "Gladiator."

  6. Rotten Tomatoes is also good if you want to know what "they (a conglamoration of internet reviewers) think" together with what "everybody else" thinks.

    Their reviews mathematize opinion (up your alley, Father) so you have a 1-100 figure based on likes and dislikes. You can usually risk it if it's about an 80. Then again, I doubt "Indy 4" got that high but I still would've seen it for sentimental reasons. "The Social Network" just got a "97" or something incredible like that. Going to see it next weekend.

    So if you think you'd enjoy films that "everybody else" likes, you have a decent wind vane with RT, for what it's worth.

  7. RT also saves you $. Various times friends and I have been spared by first checking RT & finding out that the flic that looked promising in previews was an RT "53" and watching the DVD for free later from the library (why did I do that?) confirmed it.

  8. Another good indicator are the awards.

    Oscars are the most prestigious, voted on by critics, former winners and nominees - generally very reputable. If it got Best Picture, it's generally worth the watch.

    Acting performances are indicators that you'll have fun watching that guy/girl. I just watched "Girl, Interrupted" where the lead and story weren't the greatest by far, but Angelina Jolie's incredible work got her Best Supporting. Worth the watch.

    Golden Globes are done by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Don't know a lot about the voting process, but generally less of a big deal. To prove the point, last year's Best Pic for the Oscars was Kathryn Bigelow's "Hurt Locker," by far the best pic. The Globes chose her ex-husband's "Avatar." Haw. "A" was great, but not that great.

  9. Gee, we're getting a lot of comments on this post.


  10. Continuing the "awards" strain, just watched a film with a lot of "X Film Festival" and "So and So's People's Choice Award" tagged all over the cover. This is usually an indicator that it's artzy, but not necessarly great. Often it's the sign of a low budget/indepent/B movie.

    And the title of the award (i.e. "The Christian Children's Wholesome Fellowship Certificate of Family Excellence") can be yet another sweet/dreadfully sour indicator.

  11. On RT, I give more weight to the ratings of the "ordinary people" who saw it, than to the critics. Regarding Stephen Greydanus, I found that I fundamentally disagreed with him about several films; in at least one case, he seemed to have missed the boat completely, not even understanding the film. Nonetheless, I do read him sometimes, especially to have an idea about the general moral tenor of the film.

  12. Seems wise. I guess by "ordinary pple" they would be people you actually know and you can then filter their opinion through what you know of their tastes. I.e. if my sister tells me a such and such romantic comedy is great I think "chic flic, prob not gonna watch it." But if my brother tells me the same about the same movie, i.e. "(500) Days of Summer" then that means "wow, a chic flic guys can dig, seein it!"

    Regarding Steve G, I don't read him avidly and can't remember a real argument I've had with his views (but I'm sure I could find one), and I do use any per se Christian/Catholic review/ers as, as you said, general moral thermometers. Again, I'm sure I'd more than beg to differ on a few films.

    Good to have a watcher with a head out there.