What I learnt from watching every Jason Statham film.

Part One,

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

As you get older, you realise that a lot of what you liked as a teenager, and in your twenties, isn’t as good as you remember it being. “Look what I just found!” you’ll say, brandishing a DVD of, oh I don’t know, Face/Off or Dude, Where’s My Car? or The Fifth Element that you have just found in a pile of stuff your mom wants you to go through before she throws it all out. “Let’s watch it tonight.”

And then you watch it, and it is far crueller, or infinitely less funny, or significantly less coherent than you remember it being. And another part of your youth dies.

There is a long list of films and television programmes that I haven’t watched in at least a decade that I think, but I’m not sure, are good. Some won’t be. A lot of them will be objectively ‘good’ but I won’t like them any more. (And that’s ok. We change as we age.) Others will have aged badly for one reason or another. (And again, that’s fine. If a film from the 80’s or 90’s seems a bit prehistoric in its attitude toward race or sexuality or gender or what have you when viewed through modern eyes that is only because, as a society, we have made steps in the right direction since it was made – though obviously, depressingly, we still have a long way to go.)

Which is a convoluted way of getting to the point that I started watching Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with a certain amount of trepidation. Would the film that kickstarted the mockney gangster movie revolution stand up to scrutiny? Do me a favour, you mug, of course it fackin’ won’t.

Except, mostly, it does. It is obviously a debut film, with some of the unnecessary flourishes and overly thought out camera angles that often go with that territory – a young film maker putting everything they know into their first movie in case they don’t get to make a second – but there’s nothing that is too distracting. You can see the influence of Tarantino’s first two films but, where couldn’t you in 1998? The thing I had most forgotten was how neat the story is. The plot is relatively complicated, stolen money and stolen guns move around a large cast setting new story arcs in motion as they do so, but individual scenes don’t feel like they are in service to anything other than the desire to entertain the audience.

Here are some other things I had forgotten about Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

  • Sting is in it. How on earth did I forget that. And while his part isn’t as prominent as in Dune… no, I’ll rephrase that… while is role isn’t as memorable as in Dune, he is very good. He’s had a funny old acting career, Sting, but this is one of the highlights.
  • Rob Bryden too, in one of his first roles on tv or film. He plays a traffic warden. As you can imagine, given the British love of parking illegally and not seeing the problem with it, his character suffers various misfortunes.
  • Vinnie Jones isn’t quite as good as you remember. He was the real breakout star of Ritchie’s first couple of movies, going to Hollywood and becoming an X-Man and everything, but while he clearly has great presence from the start the acting isn’t all that. In fact he isn’t nearly as good as a certain other retired sportsman making his acting debut… that’s right…
  • Jason Statham, who makes a pretty solid debut. It’s no Eddie Murphy in 48hrs or anything, but he shows plenty of promise.
  • However, the main thing I had forgotten was how much fun the film was. There’s a reason so few of the British gangster films that followed Lock, Stock are remembered today. Well, let’s be honest, there are a lot of reasons, but chief among them is their inability to recreate the tone of Lock, Stock, which manages to make you worry for the safety of some characters while also having the deaths of others as punchlines. It’s a delicate balancing act and most of the films that followed it either failed to recreate it or succeeded as movies by trying something else.

So, the thing I learned from watching Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was… sometimes you can go back and rewatch the films of your youth without being crushed by disappointment.

 

 

 

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