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Volume 4, Number 5
May, 1999

You Gotta See This Pros and Cons of British Cinema

by Ealasaid A. Haas

There are both advantages and disadvantages to being an American film freak in England. I knew when I signed up to do a semester abroad, that I'd be leaving LA, and that it wouldn't be easy. My friends still in the US get to see films weeks or months before I do, and I often don't even know a film's in the works until it's been released. On the other hand, I can think of two distinct plusses to being here: Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels and Plunkett & Macleane. Both are British films, and I saw the former about a month before it opened in the US. I've seen the latter twice, while it's still not even available to my LA pals.

And even better: both films are terrific.

If you still haven't seen Lock, Stock, and enjoy films like Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction, get out there and see it! It's a tale at once simple and complex: Tom (Jason Flemyng) and his mates get together half a million pounds to play in a high-stakes poker game. Of course, they not only lose all their own money, but wind up owing "Hatchet" Harry (P.H. Moriarty) another half a million. They only have one week to come up with the money, so naturally, the concoct a plan to steal it from the drug-dealer neighbors next door. And naturally, the heist does not go as planned. The events which ensue are so full of unlikely coincidences and complicated set-ups that one can't help admiring Guy Ritchie the writer/director who pulled it all off. As mind-bogglingly twisted as the storyline is, it still holds together under scrutiny, and manages to be both suspenseful and hilariously funny at the same time. The young quartet of financially embarrassed blokes are brilliantly played, combining the idiocy of the young with cunning in almost equal amounts, and Vinnie Jones (a notorious soccer-player in the UK) is wonderfully deadpan as an enforcer set on the heroes' trail by Harry. Sting is also marvelous as Tom's father, who takes tough love to what some might say is an extreme. Everything is held together by a terrific soundtrack, and the resulting film is an absolute blast. (Oh, and for those worried about the accents: the scenes in which characters speak with almost incomprehensible dialects have subtitles).

Plunkett & Macleane has been described as a film which "sticks two grubby fingers up at the period drama," and it most definitely is (for my Stateside readers, the gesture mentioned is the British equivalent of giving someone the finger). Will Plunkett (Robert Carlyle) is a bankrupt apothecary who supports himself with highway robbery. Jamie Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller, who was Sickboy to Carlyle's Begby in Trainspotting) is a broke would-be gentleman. When the two team up, with Jamie finding out who to rob and when, and Plunkett masterminding the actual thievery, they prove to be an almost unstoppable team. Throw a delightfully evil Thieftaker General (Ken Stott) and a cool-headed heiress (Liv Tyler) into the mix, and have the whole thing masterminded by Jake Scott (whose previous directing experience includes music videos), and you've got a riotous romp through eighteenth-century England. Part of what makes the film a good parody of period dramas is how the gritty realism of the grubby world inhabited by Plunkett and Macleane before they team up compares with the over-the-top costumes, behavior, and wigs of the upper class the two manage to infiltrate. It's not a perfect movie, but most of the problems it has are easily traced to the fact that it's Scott's first major film. The characters aren't always entirely consistent, and the romance which blooms between Lady Rebecca and Macleane isn't as well-developed as it could be. On the other hand, the montages used to show time passing are very well-done, which is more than one can often say for major Hollywood films.

So, while I may have to wait for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and still haven't seen The Matrix, I did get to see Lock, Stock, and Plunkett & Macleane nice and early. And I think it's a fair trade.

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