In 1998, Tom Cruise attended a special screening for him and his close friends and business associates. They were to view an independently made, British gangster film that caused a sensation in its native land, and was seeking American distribution. About halfway into the film Cruise (in a sign of events to come) jumped up and wildly exclaimed, “We’re buying this picture. This f**king rocks.”

The film was writer/director Guy Ritchie’s LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS. As events played out, Cruise did not end up with the rights because he was looking to remake the picture and Ritchie wanted distribution. The rights eventually went to Polygram Filmed Entertainment. LOCK, STOCK… received good reviews, but only made $3.7 million in a limited release. The film found a wider audience on home video and it marked Guy Ritchie as a director to keep an eye on for one simple reason. Tom Cruise was right…this film rocks.

The complex plot involves four likable lads with a money-making plan, a rigged card game, pot growers, inept robbers, porn dealers, and an antique pair of double-barreled shotguns. The story sounds complicated and Ritche introduces everyone without taking a breath, but on a scene-to-scene basis, it’s a very easy film to follow. The twists and turns are part of the film’s fun, and make it a prime candidate for multiple viewings.

Ritchie’s directs like a man with something to prove. His favorite trick is ramping up and slowing down the camera during a shot. Sometimes, the style deadens the pace. A handful of scenes consist of nothing more than characters drinking and celebrating while the camera spins around and Brit-rock blasts through the speakers. This only appears once in Ritchie’s follow-up, SNATCH.

SNATCH was released by Screen Gems on over 1400 screens. It made $30 million in the U.S., and another $53 million overseas (on a budget of $10 million.) SNATCH isn’t as good a script as LOCK, STOCK…, but it’s directed with a more confident style. Where the last film was somewhat lacking in charismatic actors, SNATCH had Dennis Farina, Benicio Del Toro, and one of the very best performances by Brad Pitt, who played a tattooed fighter with a nearly unintelligible manner of speech.

And then things took a turn.

It would be easy to blame the fall of Guy Ritchie on his meeting, mating, and marrying Madonna. In the post-Madonna era, Ritchie made the short film STAR for BMW. Starring Clive Owen and Madonna, STAR is full of Ritchie’s snappy patter and stylish flourishes. The film works even though it’s almost completely brought down by a wretched performance from Madonna, playing herself. (How bad do you have to be to screw that up?)

STAR was followed by SWEPT AWAY. This romantic comedy, once again starring Madonna, became one of the worst reviewed movies of all time. Ritchie hoped that his fan base would follow him on this detour, but audiences stayed far away and the film grossed under $600 thousand world wide. SWEPT AWAY was so poorly received that it never found theatrical distribution in Ritchie’s home country.

And like that…Guy Ritchie was done.
But is he over?

I hope not. I really enjoy Ritchie’s first two films, and after SNATCH I saw Ritchie as a filmmaker who mixed Tarantino’s pulp fiction storytelling with David Fincher’s experimental camera technique. He’s not nearly in the same league as the other two, but they’re leaders. Ritchie is an excellent follower.

Unfortunately, Ritchie’s return to his gangster roots, REVOLVER doesn’t look like the comeback he so desperately needs. The film’s taken over a year to find distribution, and the trailer lacks the strong comedic layer that infuses Ritchie’s other good films.

I’d like to think Ritchie is still a very talented filmmaker who’s just in a very rough patch right now. He will come back, eventually. The real question is whether anyone will still care when he does.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

does anyone know where to find the bmw film because bmw quit showing it online.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Cutshaw said...

I'm sorry to learn that BMW is no longer offering THE HIRE to watch or buy. I guess that makes my DVD a much more valuable addition to my collection. Your best bet now is to get it through eBay. Checking their site, they currently had 17 copies available. I definitely recommend the purchase. Every film has commentary and the bonuses are nice.

11:03 AM  

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