UK / 1999
Director and Writer: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones, PH Moriarty, Lenny McLean
Guy Ritchie’s voyage into the world of the East End is an immensely enjoyable and energetic modern classic, even if it’s as authentically gorblimey as its creator. A quartet of friends led by Eddy (Nick Moran) pool their savings for a card game with porn baron Hatchet Harry (PH Moriarty), who has fixed the odds in his favour.
Minutes later, Eddy is £500,000 down, with fellow debtors Bacon (Jason Statham), Tom (Jason Flemyng) and Soap (Dexter Flethcer) in despair. When they hear that Eddy’s drug-dealing neighbours are about to rob a rival and pocket the proceeds, they decide to hijack the haul for themselves. Local gang leader Rory (Vas Blackwood) has also taken an interest in the haul, unaware that Harry’s enforcer, Big Chris (Vinny Jones), is on everyone’s tail, and demanding a slice of the action for himself…
Off screen, Ritchie owed his own figurative debt (to The Italian Job, Scorsese and Ealing Comedy) and a literal debt to his private financiers, who came close to seeing the film disappear without a UK release. Within a year it had taken £11 million, fuelled by incredulity that a homegrown project could be so rewarding. The blend of violence and comedy belies the team’s inexperience, with Ritchie’s apprenticeship served on minor commercials and pop promos, and the editor poached from work on Thomas the Tank Engine.
Performances are excellent, with Jones coming straight from a police cell (on an assault charge) to deliver a knockout debut while the late Lenny McLean, alias ‘The Guv’nor’, a Kray twins contemporary and bare-knuckle fighter, offers a ferocity that seems more practised than rehearsed. Moriarty lends yet more menace and echoes his performance in The Long Good Friday, another Ritchie influence that he would revisit with Snatch, via the casting of scene-stealer Alan Ford.