When I think about what a Guy Ritchie film is, there are “real” Guy Ritchie films and then some other random things that he makes. I think the “real” Guy Ritchie films are Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla and the Gentlemen. There’s a possible case for including Revolver, but I would consider that an outlier. His other films seem like films for other people like studios or to impress Madonna. The “real” Guy Ritchie films share a bunch of themes and characteristics and, if I was Guy Ritchie, these are the films I would want to be known for. I’ve watched the four of them in the last while so I’ve done some thinking about them.
They’re all English gangster films. They’re all capers. They’re all based on big set pieces with twists and bluffs and double bluffs. There are big soundtracks. They’re generally a bit of a boys club. They’re generally visually a bit edgy. And they’re big on men’s fashion.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 1998 – The original…
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was Guy Ritchie’s first film and you can see all the things that went on to be Guy Ritchie staples. The cuts are nice. The characters all get intros and have nicknames. There are three women in the entire film and they don’t get anymore than a line or two of dialogue. There’s capers and set pieces. It’s good fun but low budget.
Snatch, 2000 – The best one…
Snatch is the most Guy Ritchie film of all Guy Ritchie films. It looks slick. There are lots of characters with lots of storylines all crossing over and linking up. The fashion is dialled up. There’s nice coats and tweed. 2000 was a big time for British culture in terms of fashion, film and music and Snatch is a snapshot of that.
It’s the best Guy Ritchie film. It sticks to its guns. It does all the daft characters and twists and it works out as a solid film.
RocknRolla, 2008 – The step too far…
RocknRolla came after Swept Away and Revolver and it seemed like Guy Ritchie leaned a little too far back into what had worked for him before. It goes too laddish and also tries to be too poetic at the same time. The end result is fun but not as good a film as the earlier versions. Gerard Butler just isn’t Jason Statham. Ultimately, it feels like a third time trying something without doing anything new or particularly interesting.
The Gentlemen, 2019 – The version made for Americans…
The Gentlemen is a perfectly fine film but it feels like an American rework of a Guy Ritchie film. It’s fun and it’s slick but it lacks the charm of the earlier efforts. It’s carried by Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant. The fashion feels like a caricature of the earlier films.
Revolver, 2005 – The fever dream
Revolver could be argued to fit into the above list but I feel like it’s something different. It’s crime and there’s twists but it gets lost in philosophy and ends up just not being a great film. It doesn’t have the same feel as the others. It feels hazy, less slick and seems to be based in some generic American urban setting.
Layer Cake, 2004 – The non-Guy-Ritchie Guy Ritchie film
It would be a neat conclusion if the best Guy Ritchie film was actually Layer Cake, since it feels like a Guy Ritchie film but has nothing to do with him really. It’s directed by Matthew Vaughn, who produced Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch and based on the book, Layer Cake, by J.J. Connolly.
The truth is it’s good but not as good as Snatch. It’s good fun, but less of a caper, less visually interesting. Daniel Craig is a better lead and it’s incredible to rewatch it and see how much of an advertisement it was for the role as Bond.
At this point, Guy Ritchie probably has more misses than hits, but it is a credit to him to have such a distinct and recognisable style. Some of what he did might be considered out dated now but I think that’s because so much of it has been absorbed into mainstream film.