Though it doesn't quite hold the record in this category (Anchor Bay and its Dawn of the Dead/Army of Darkness fixation is more than likely numero uno), Guy Ritchie's incredibly entertaining Snatch has got to be some sort of double dip champion. It's been released in a standard version, a two-disc special edition and under the notoriously underwhelming Superbit title. Like the annual migration of birds to the warmer climes come winter, it seems like every year brings another DVD variation of this crackerjack crime comedy. This time around, an "exclusive" poker set presentation is being used. It's still the same package as the old two disc SE, but now you can get some cards, a dealer's chip, and a collector's 'scrapbook' of film trivia. If all that floats your 'must buy' boat, then by all means pick up this obvious marketing ploy. If not, then there's really no reason to pony up the pennies and buy this unnecessary reconfiguration.
Turkish and his partner Tommy run a slot machine parlor as their 'legitimate' business. They also promote illegal boxing matches on the side. When their premier pugilist Gorgeous George gets injured in a fight with a gypsy, they find themselves in Dutch with murderous London mobster Brick Top. He was planning on George taking a dive in one of his own fights, and he threatens the pair into providing a new opponent. Their choice? The gypsy who felled their guy in the first place.
In the meantime, a diamond heist has gone haywire. Franky Four Fingers has toddled off to England to find a buyer, but back home in Antwerp, his partners are plotting a double cross. They get local Russian reprobate Boris the Blade to divert the stone, and he hires pawnshop owners Sol and Vincent to grab the gem. Things go horribly wrong when the pair attempts to rob a bookie - a gambling den that just so happens to be owned by Brick Top. When he discovers the jewel's existence, he too wants it for his very own.
Then there's American merchant "Cousin Avi" Denovitz. His British relative was supposed to front the 86 carat beauty, and he's determined to get it back. He hires Bullet Tooth Tony to track the gem. Naturally, all roads lead to Sol and Vinnie, and by indirect coincidence, Turkish and Tommy. It all ends up in bullets, bloodshed and boxing as cutthroat criminals vie for the biggest payday of their larcenous lives.
Snatch is cinematic kinetic energy. It's wild and uninhibited, completely chaotic and yet as tightly plotted as a full out French farce. It is a hilarious comedy, a clever crime caper, an expert exercise in filmic technique and a brazen, ballsy call back to the American indie scene all rolled up and smoked in a Hellsapoppin' hookah. Arriving as it did during the final phases of Hollywood's fixation with all things Tarantino-esque, the film does play like Reservoir Dogs on pixie sticks, amped up past the parameters of most audience attention spans. It is sometimes so sure of itself that the cockiness slaps you square across the sensibilities, and a few of the myriad of mobsters and made men that populate the picture are less than fleshed out, but when the results are as entertaining and breezy as this fogless breath of British air, who really gives a shite.
Sadly, writer/director Guy Ritchie has more or less fallen off the star map over the last few years, reduced to a roll as madam Madonna's personal sperm provider and premier escort. Being the diva's baby daddy has resulted in a complete and utter fiasco (the caustic collaboration on the remake of Lina Wertmüller's brilliant Swept Away) along with a much maligned 'return to form' with this year's reviled Revolver. Looking back at Snatch, it really becomes a pitiable passage of unhappy events. Here is someone who seemed so certain of himself, so completely in tune with the world he was working in and the personalities he was plying that, though it looked like he was milking the mob genre for all it was worth (Ritchie's previous effort, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, was also a fan favorite) this combination of boxing and burglary truly transcended its type. Indeed, instead of acting like another QT wannabe, Snatch suggested the Coen Brothers, and their sacred screwball efforts like Raising Arizona mixed with the conniving crime complication of Miller's Crossing.
Naturally, it is all filtered through a unique UK jive that is as addictive as Walker's Nonsuch Toffee. What Ritchie has that many American auteurs would kill for is a truly unusual take on the concept of the underworld. Here, his mob bosses are freakish and frightening, not the suave Rat Pack personas of the US Mafioso. Brick Top, brilliantly played by Alan Ford, is so menacing, so downright evil, that you can barely look at him when he walks into the room. Words come out of his mouth in a garbled hush, mouth pulled back in a teeth-baring grimace. As a heavy, he's far more frightening than any zoot suited goombah cruising the Jersey shore. Similarly, the sly fox gypsies with their con man mannerisms make for equally effective villains. Not even the stunning star power of Brad Pitt (he plays the tattooed and indecipherable boxer Mickey) can remove the residue of underhanded cravenness from the characters. Indeed, the acting is uniformly excellent in Snatch, something that many indie caper wannabes can't claim. While it's true that Benecio Del Toro is more or less wasted in a throwaway near cameo (he does get a nice monologue about the Virgin Mary) and Dennis Farina never met scenery he couldn't chew, this is still a stellar effort all around.
So why isn't Snatch on par with some of the other pretenders to the crime genre throne. Well, for one thing, Ritchie's direction is hopelessly obvious. He's spinning the lens and adding so many post-production elements that for everyone that works effortlessly (Pitt's pre-notch out slow motion fall to the canvas is classic) there is an overdone montage (Del Toro's penchant for gambling, Farina's arrivals and departures from England) that screams style over substance. Part of the problem may also be finding individuals to root for. Turkish and Tommy are all right blokes, but neither is set up in either hero or anti-hero mode. The rest of this mean motley crew is so colored by corruption and vice that you can't feel completely comfortable pulling for their eventual triumph. Together with a dialect that's barely decipherable (sometimes on purpose as in the case of Pitt's perversely perplexing gypsy) and a convenience of coincidence that renders the action a little too 'planned', Snatch does have its flaws. But the good definitely far outweighs the bad in what is a truly energetic entertainment experience. It may not always make sense, and seems way too pat at times, but this is still a very good movie. Whether it needed four different DVD versions is another matter all together.
It would be nice to report that the latest version of Snatch on DVD is a technical dream. Sadly, this critic cannot provide that information. Though he was sent final, finished product for this review, the disc is either incorrect, or the packaging it was contained in has an obvious misprint. From initial looks, this two DVD set supposedly contains a reconfiguration of the previous Special Edition. There is supposed to be a commentary and featurette on Disc 1, and a slew of extras on Disc 2. Well, the second DVD is correct, but the first is completely wrong. According to what this critic received, Disc 1 is nothing more than the SUPERBIT version of the film. No commentary. No featurettes. Just theoretically suped up sound and vision. He is not sure if this is the case with all the box sets hitting the market, but as a result, a huge case of caveat emptor applies here( A recent note from someone who bought the DVD on release date states that the Disc 1 he received is indeed the SE version, not the Superbit).
As to the Super-sized tech specs, the film still looks a little fuzzy and soft in sections, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image lacking significant crispness and detail. It does render the film almost fanciful, giving even the most violent scenes a dream-like quality, but to this viewer, that doesn't seem quite what Ritchie had in mind. Colors are muted and then vibrant, correct and then crocked, and overall, the transfer seems stuck somewhere between amateurish and amazing. Without a non-Superbit to compare it to, it has to be said that the specialized version of Snatch is barely passable, picture wise.
Since it relies heavily on a pop song soundtrack to compel the plot along, Snatch sounds especially good in the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (regular and DTS) offered as part of the Superbit. The narration by Turkish (Jason Statham) is easily understood and never masked by the music, and the occasional sound effects offer a nice bit of channel challenging. This is not an amazing, immersive experience, but the aural attributes here are still far better than the barely passable image.
Remember, this critic did not get the advertised Disc 1. So any comments about the alternate narrative track or any other element on said DVD will have to be handled via hearsay. You can read all about them in the DVD Talk review here. As for Disc 2, the Making-Of is pretty interesting. It does reek of an overdone EPK, but for the most part, it's engaging to hear the cast discuss Ritchie's rigid methodology (he is quite the task master on set) and the approach to their roles. The Deleted Scenes are interesting in that they clarify a few things while confusing a couple along with way. Ritchie is right there with an optional commentary to hopefully explain the edits. The galleries are good, as are the storyboard to scene comparisons.
And then there is the poker kit. Sadly, it is not a nudie deck like the one used by Tommy and Turkish during one scene (the cover art makes up the back design), but the cards here are quite novel. Instead of Aces, Spades, Diamonds and Hearts, we have Guns, Dogs, Boxing Gloves and Gems. The Jack is Mickey (Pitt), the Queen is Franky Four Fingers (Del Toro) and the King is Brick Top himself. The dealer's chip is a thick yellow plastic disc with the film's logo on each side, and the scrapbook is the insert equivalent of production notes, biographies and filmographies (with lots of flash pictures along for the ride). Though the connection to poker is problematic (it's really only hinted at in the film, if it's mentioned at all), the enclosed professional deck is decent and the bright packaging is impressive. If it wasn't for the damned disc mix-up (which, again, may be exclusive to this critic's copy), this would be a nice companion presentation to the Superbit version of the film. As it stands, this entire double dip mess remains confusing, and contrary to how a manufacturer should treat the purchasing public.
Snatch itself easily earns a Highly Recommended rating. It is an inventive, infectious film that delivers on its immense promise without completely screwing it all up in the end. Certainly it is flawed, and can't compete with its 'pulp' predecessor, but Guy Ritchie deserves a pass or two for crafting such an ingenious, engaging work. As for the dreaded double dip issues, the advice is far foggier. If you do not already own the film, this is the package to pick up. If you have the two disc version already, the poker product is not enough incentive to consider a repurchase. If you only own the Superbit, you should definitely pass on this presentation. The second disc has some decent stuff, but the first disc's potential flaw makes your eventual acquisition a true gamble. Want some sage advice? Wait until a few more reviews hit the 'Net, and see if other reviewers are complaining about mislabeling. If not, maybe this is a wallet way to go. If so, then definitely avoid this ripe rip-off. Here's hoping we've seen the end of Snatch on DVD. One definitive version would have been fine. This continuing consumer con job is more criminal than any act committed in the film.
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