One of Brad Pitt's biggest and best comedies is currently streaming on Netflix, but don't take your time on watching it.
In many ways, Fight Club changed the game for Brad Pitt. The 1999 David Fincher thriller had highlighted a grimy, sexy, charismatic version of the actor after several years of high-minded, gorgeously shot prestige pictures like Seven Years in Tibet and Meet Joe Black that had not brought him quite the critical respect he had been looking for. But audiences did apparently like a sweaty, shirtless Brad Pitt in dimly-lit bare-knuckle brawls and his follow-up to Fight Club did not disappoint in that regard. After popping up in a brief cameo as a sketchy version of himself in Being John Malkovich, Pitt’s next starring role was in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. The crime caper comedy was an ensemble piece but heavily marketed as featuring Pitt as the Irish Traveller boxer/con-man “One Punch” Mickey O’Neil and people showed up for it. The movie was a critical and commercial success, pushing Ritchie into the stratosphere as an up-and-coming director and cementing Brad Pitt’s off-and-on sleaze appeal. Snatch is leaving Netflix at the end of April, so you better get on it.
Snatch was Guy Ritchie’s second feature-length film, after the surprise success of his debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels had put him on Hollywood’s radar as an up-and-coming director with a flair for kinetic visuals and colorful characters. Snatch does everything that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels did, but ramped up to Hollywood proportions. A big star like Brad Pitt was a huge get for Ritchie, but it was clear that it was not where his heart was. Where his first film had mostly featured unknown, handsome young British actors (plus a small part for the musician Sting, who probably filmed all his scenes in an afternoon), Snatch loaded up on character actors with, let’s say, interesting faces. When you cast Dennis Farina, Rade Šerbedžija, Mike Reid, and Alan Ford in a crime movie, you know what kind of film you’re set for. If you then have Brad Pitt and Benicio del Toro to put on your posters, so much the better.
While Brad Pitt was far and away the most famous actor in Snatch, the closest thing to a protagonist of the movie is played by Jason Statham. Statham was still some years away from breaking out as an action star with The Transporter, and had his first role in Ritchie’s previous picture. The director had accurately pegged the former diving champion as a future headliner, and set him as low-rent boxing promoter Turkish in Snatch. Along with his partner Tommy (Stephen Graham), Turkish spends the majority of the movie trying to dig himself out of one hole only to find himself in a deeper one. By the time he enlists Brad Pitt’s Mickey to sub for one of his fighter (after Mickey nearly kills him with one punch), the plot has already gotten too chaotic to sum up neatly.
To put it as simply as possible, while Jason Statham is fruitlessly trying to get Brad Pitt to take dives in fights he keeps winning, gambling addict Benicio del Toro is trying to fence an enormous diamond he stole in a violent heist involving Hasidic disguises, New York mobster Dennis Farina has hired Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones, also Guy Ritchie regular and childhood friend of Statham) for protection, and Rade Šerbedžija’s Russian swindler Boris “the Blade” can just not be killed by seemingly anything. There’s also a subplot of a trio of hapless low-level criminals trying to get rid of a dead body, Turkish is trying to buy a camper trailer, and a dog that will eat pretty much anything. There’s a lot going on and no one in the movie is really ever up to speed on anything. Except maybe Brad Pitt’s Mickey, it turns out.
Under Guy Ritchie’s frantic, stylish direction, Snatch moves along at a breakneck pace. It was a surprise hit and confirmed that Ritchie was a director worth watching and Brad Pitt could play dirty like no one’s business. Unfortunately, Ritchie’s follow-up picture Swept Away (starring his then-spouse Madonna) bombed at the box office and was critically despised. Even as Pitt was buoyed by Ocean’s 11, Ritchie lost the plot for quite a few years. His follow-up crime pictures Revolver and RocknRolla failed to find the same audience (and humor) of his previous movies, and it would take the success of the Robert Downey Jr-starring Sherlock Holmes franchise to bring him back to Hollywood’s good graces. But if you want to see Ritchie and Brad Pitt at their best, you better get to Snatch before the end of the month.