Almost 25 years since the feature directorial debut of Guy Ritchie, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels not only holds up as an entertaining film but also conveys an energetic pace and cadence that continually excites across the development of his filmography.
Lock Stock’s simplistic yet intricate plot pits four young, cocky and naive London boys against a slew of hardened criminals and savage gangsters after they lose a rigged game of cards, having to repay a half-a-million-pound debt with a week to drum up the funds. Through several hyper-violent altercations and a pinch of good luck, the boys manage to walk away unscathed after dipping their toes into the criminal underworld of London. Along the way, Richie introduces us to colourful and larger-than-life stock characters that are entertaining plot devices and memorable in their own right.
The protagonist quartet; Tom (Jason Flemyng) Bacon (Jason Statham) Eddy (Nick Moran) & Soap (Dexter Fletcher) have an undeniably charismatic on-screen presence. The on-screen chemistry of Richie’s characters is a shining example of outstanding casting choices, many of the film’s actors were unknowns at the time and the overnight success of the film made stars like Statham immediately sought after and hot property. The back-and-forth banter combined with abrasively sarcastic and ‘laddy’ personalities is one of the few markers of the film being a product of its era, at the height of British working-class new lad culture. Maliciously charming debt collector Chris (Vinnie Jones) is type cast as a gangster, a parallel to his behaviour on the pitch as a professional footballer, Sting makes a cameo appearance as Eddy’s father and pro boxer Lenny McClean known as ‘the hardest man in Britain’ perfectly cast as monster man Barry the Baptist. London geezers-geezing, north-south divides with toffs and gangster clashes populate the gritty sepia backdrop of Richie’s east London. Richie’s razor-sharp and witty dialogue effortlessly characterises, informs, and entertains all with a sprinkling of dark humor which differentiates the film from others in the genre.
One element of Richie’s work that has defined his career as a director is his control of pace and cadence, few other directors of high profile are able to create kinetic energy on screen that matches. Richie’s command over pacing can be attributed to his experimental editing techniques, as a former music video director, Richie had plentiful experience with producing stylish and impactful content on a lower budget, controlling visuals to match audio, something that continues to be prevalent across his filmography. Richie’s stylish editing can be boiled down to the concept of ‘fast & slow’, in terms of formal elements this consists of; speed-ramps, freeze-frames, slow-motion, intercutting, parallel action and superimposition.
As his first film, Lock Stock is an example of Richie’s raw ambition on display, the cadence of Richie’s scenes is dictated by his efficient writing style combined with his stylish and temporally playful editing techniques culminating in unique kineticism that has become a staple of the sub-genre.