5. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Taking a more Hollywood approach, Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” takes the classic character and turns him into an action hero who’s as skilful with his wit as he is with his hands.
As Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) wrap up their last case together as Watson is planning to marry, the creepy Lord Henry Blackwood (Mark Strong) vanishes from his grave after his hanging. However, it all turns out to be part of Blackwood’s plans, leading the duo on a mysterious yarn in the world of the supernatural.
While true fans may not care for this “blockbuster retelling”, Ritchie is perfectly matched with the script that updates the story for modern audiences with a period setting. You can sense everyone having a blast, especially Ritchie who utilizes all his trademarks with well-thought-out camerawork, precise editing, and a quick pace that moves things along swiftly. And the 1890 London backdrop looks exquisite.
Of course, the biggest selling point is the cast, with Downey Jr. and Law filling their roles perfectly. A classic bromance that’s up there with some of cinema’s best. The chemistry may be a little off, especially in the beginning, but it flows smoothly toward the end and improves in the sequel.
Their banter is what truly makes the film. Downey Jr. gives Sherlock his trademark charm and eccentric coolness and Law gives Watson the class and proper support he deserves. Strong may not be the greatest villain but he embodies Blackwood as a mysterious, cold and calculating figure.
The script may feel convoluted at times, but it’s a fun film that shows how you can take a beloved story and successfully put a Hollywood spin on it. There are many fun scenes and great action sequences and while it may have its flaws and isn’t the proper adaptation of the legendary detective we’re used to, it’s still enjoyable in its own right.
4. RocknRolla (2005)
Returning to what he does best (or did best), “RocknRolla” sees Ritchie incorporating an ensemble cast with shady characters, fast dialogue, double crossings and a London setting in the criminal underworld.
It’s set in the then-global crisis where there’s money to be made. Everyone tries to move in on Kingpin Lenny Cole’s (Tom Wilkinson) waning dominance, and he goes into business with shady Russian mobsters in a massive real estate deal. Street smart hustler One Two (Gerard Butler) tries to play both sides as more characters who want a piece get involved.
Featuring a powerful cast that also includes Thandie Newton, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Jimi Mistry, Toby Kebbell and Mark Strong, “RocknRolla” is a true return to form after some misses. Ritchie serves up the same cast of lowlifes where nothing ever goes according to plan. A much more mature and darker film than “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”, the film still possesses Ritchie’s sense of black comedy and violence.
It’s a film filled with twist and turns and Ritchie balances the elements of surprise quite well. Jam packed with memorable scenes like one character being fed to crayfish and some pretty wicked monologues, “RocknRolla” is a criminally underrated film that deserves to be seen.
3. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
Doubling up on the action, wittiness and fun, “A Game of Shadows” embraces its predecessor’s eccentricity tenfold and is all the better for it. Improving on its flaws and raising the stakes, Ritchie delivers one of the most enjoyable sequels.
Teaming up with a gypsy, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson chase their cunning archnemesis Professor Moriarty across Europe to foil his intricate plans to start the next world war. Set up in the previous film with some foreshadowing just to show what a genius Moriarty is, Holmes meets his match in a game of wit and physicality.
Most critics thought the first film was stronger and to be frank, they’re wrong. “A Game of Shadows” makes for a better film with the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law flowing more smoothly. The humour is a perfect balance of wit and silliness.
Everyone who’s familiar with the literary version of Sherlock Holmes knows well enough that Professor Moriarty is his most dangerous nemesis. He gets updated as well, matching intellectual wit and physicality with this version of Holmes. Excellently portrayed by Jared Harris, Moriarty makes for a more engaging villain than Blackwood in the first film and pushes the usually over-confident Holmes to doubt himself.
No one ever expects the hero of any action films to die, especially this superhero Holmes, but another thing “A Game of Shadows” improves on is the sense of danger and threat. The stakes are that much higher with a riveting game of cat-and-mouse between the heroes and villains.
The team behind Ritchie truly outdoes themselves in every department with some amazing action sequences, editing, costumes, set design and cinematography. It’s truly a feast for the eyes. The slow motion may feel distracting or gimmicky as with most Hollywood blockbusters, but this is one of Ritchie’s best works and sequels in general. Mindless popcorn fun? Perhaps, but isn’t that what popcorn is for?
2. Snatch (2000)
After the success of his debut-feature, “Snatch” sees Ritchie getting a bigger budget and returning to the London criminal world with a bigger ensemble cast where violence and idiocy are all in a day’s work.
Two unlicensed boxing promoters, Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham), get forced into organising a rigged bare-knuckle fight for kingpin Brick Top (Alan Ford). Everything goes wrong when One Punch Mickey O’Neal (Brad Pitt) starts playing by his own rules. Simultaneously, everything connects after Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) goes missing after stealing an 86-carat diamond, and Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) gets hired to track him down.
“Snatch” is a complete blast with Pitt giving one of his best performances as a fast-talking Irish Gypsy boxer who basically speaks in tongues. In fact, there are moments on the DVD where the subtitles simply give up trying to catch up to whatever he’s saying, which is the point. Unfortunately, Del Toro has a short screen presence as the gambling-addicted gangster with a missing finger for unpaid debts. The opening scene with the Antwerp heist is one of Del Toro’s most memorable moments.
While “Snatch” is very similar to “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” with a lot of that cast returning to play similar characters, it never feels like a rehash. The new additions like Pitt and Dennis Farina seem to be having a blast as well and add something different. It deserves to be up there with some of the best British crime films and showcases what an excellent writer and director Ritchie can be.
1. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Introducing the world to Guy Ritchie, Jason Statham, a former diver; Vinnie Jones, a former international soccer player; and produced by producer/director Matthew Vaughn, for better or for worse “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” is Ritchie’s best film.
After convincing his friends to combine funds for a poker game against local crime boss Hatchet Harry which turns out to be rigged, Eddy loses and is given a week to pay back the money or his father will lose his pub. The friends decide to rob the robbers who operate in the flat next door but soon find themselves in over their heads when various criminals become involved with chances of fate and coincidence all interweaving masterfully.
Impressing investors with his short film, Ritchie got the necessary funds to make his first feature. With a gritty colour palette that highlights the reality of the London underworld, some people have found it off-putting but that only robs them of a truly unique film. Sure, we’ve seen this before but not quite like this. The script roars with witty dialogue, monologues and comebacks with a spectacular ensemble cast (some of them real criminals).
The way all of the separate stories interweave in the violent finale is a climax of note. The violence is tastefully done, never feeling gratuitous for any reason other than the story’s natural progression. There’s certain rawness to the actors’ performances and Ritchie’s directing which only adds to the heightened reality. Of course, it wouldn’t be 90’s gangster film if it wasn’t for the music, and the film’s soundtrack is one of the best, with classic songs from James Brown, The Stooges and Junior Marvin, among others.
With all the imitators of the 90s, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” never feels like it’s copying anything, but is more influenced, becoming its own beast in the process. Low-budget indie filmmaking at its best, it’s a true classic.