Guy Ritchie directs Nick Moran, Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham in this British gangster comedy where various crews and toughs work at cross purposes to nick each other’s scores and obliviously quadruple cross each other.
Much like Jaws and Star Wars are somewhat unfairly maligned as heralding the death of New American Cinema from within, Lock, Stock can somewhat accurately be linked as the early demise of the resurgence of British popular cinema that occurred in the Nineties. Not the only factor… but a significant factor. By 1992 UK homegrown product was in the doldrums – Merchant Ivory, a doomed revival of Carry On, Michael Winner and Loach / Leigh. These were the only productions that troubled an ABC, and that’s if your local fleapit was lucky. It was the year of the lowest ratio ever of British films released in British cinemas. And then came a slew of younger directors and producers keen to make genre films rather than period films, movies worth going to with your mates rather than movies with the only selling point being a social conscience. Bhaji On the Beach, Shallow Grave, Four Weddings (the other culprit), The Young Americans, Shopping, Trainspotting, The Full Monty… In a few swift years, the national film scene was back in rude health. Then Lock Stock came along riding the crest of that wave and a perfect storm occurred.
Lottery funding kicked in, Cool Britannia kicked in, the lad mags kicked in and suddenly those who greenlit movies knew exactly where to deposit their dosh… mockney gangster flicks with ensemble casts and chocolate box posho rom-coms. And nothing else. All the true talent had fucked off to Hollywood pretty sharpish anyways. Is it Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn’s fault that their movie captured the zeitgeist so well that they obliterated an emerging subculture with their dominant strain of posturing caper? A little bit of blame can be left at their doors. These weren’t struggling artists who got lucky. They were well connected and well funded old boys who networking and wealth positioned their debut into a victory that emerging voices like Shane Meadows or Antonia Bird could only dream of. When Lock, Stock was released it was given the push of a blockbuster. I remember the biggest billboards in London being dominated by its advertising for months. Every magazine and broadsheet was plastered with articles and posters and profiles. That might happen for the latest Tarantino or the next James Cameron actioner but the shoestring debut of an alright crime comedy…?? Some serious backhanders must have happened, the journos were definitely in bed with them (student bedsit or boarding school bunks, hey, chaps?). The PR spend for Lock, Stock to become a phenomenon was unfair. Criminal, even.
The movie itself now only holds up in fits and starts. It is a lark… has some nice moments but looks cruddy. The needle drops are obvious. The first time actors like Statham and Jones make better impressions than the proper trained thesps like Moran (who really makes for a poor protagonist.) I like the energy but it goes on a good twenty minutes too long. It has never met a dated stereotype it didn’t lean hard into. Having said that – the framework for your superior Snatches, Revolvers, Rock’N’Rollers and The Gentlemens are here. As a rough draft of a form Ritchie would perfect and Vaughn would swiftly abandon, I respect its place in multiplex history. But then you also have to include your Rancid Aluminums and Circuses into the debit column of it cultural wake and tally. We are all fond of this kinda comic strip criminality but it got kicked to death by lazy imitations very quickly. Around the same time Lock Stock was produced, Loaded magazine serialised Get Carter as a monthly comic strip. This feels like that idea regurgitated out into the processor and blended. The Italian Job as The Bash Street Kids. The Dandy equivalent of Pulp Fiction. Carry On Scorsese. I don’t know if that swells your gonads but it does less and less for me as I get older and wiser.
Perfect Double Bill: Circus (2000)
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