Best known for his highly atmospheric, British crime films. He left secondary school and got entry-level jobs in the film industry in the mid ’90s, eventually graduating to directing commercials. In 1995 he directed his first film, a 20-minute short which impressed investors who backed his first feature film, the crime comedy Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). His career trajectory since then has been sharply up, up, up.
Guy Ritchie delights in exposing the underbelly of his native England, and does so in ways that are simultaneously over the top and quite genuine. He employ a variety of film techniques including “ultra-fast cuts, freeze frames, shorthand” scenes such as flying or sex, interweaving various characters and plot lines, and ongoing tongue-in-cheek narration. The screenwriter, too, of his first films, Ritchie brings forth his milieu with a Cockney slant that sometimes needs subtitles, but also relates the beauty of the uneducated criminal lingo. And, as inventively violent as it is, it separates itself from the similar style of Tarantino with humor and even odder characters.
Ritchie was born into a working-class household, though his mother’s second husband would be a Lord. He was kicked out of school at the age of 15, and refused to go to film school, preferring to learn the craft by making music videos at 500 pounds a pop. That explains the inventiveness of craft. For his inventiveness of story — and his genuineness — Ritchie bases many of his underworld characters on actual acquaintances. Their speech and their methods also supply a steady stream of ideas, such as disposing of a body by feeding it to pigs. (However, the body has to be prepared first, though the pigs will go through bones “like butter”.) He is also a black belt in judo and a brown belt in jiu-jitsu; he started training in the martial arts at the age of seven.
Ritchie worked his way up from music videos to commercials to short films. In 1998, he was able to get investors in his first feature, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels“. Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones were the first two macho Brits that Ritchie catapulted into fame. Statham, who among other professions really was a street con, auditioned for Ritchie with his street patter. Not only did it make it into the film, but Statham’s colorful and funny come-ons to his street customers”, would be the first Guy Ritchie words most of the world would hear.
Heading up the ladder, Ritchie next wrote and directed another Londunderworld flick, “Snatch“. It has all the panache of “Barrels”, and, with the help of Columbia Pictures, some stars — ex-cop Dennis Farina, Benicio del Toro, and Brad Pitt. Ritchie weaves the Americans in seamlessly with Statham and Jones, and directs them to some of their best performances. Farina is perfect comic relief, this time as a Jewish gangster. Benicio is mysterious and laconic as diamond thief Frankie Four Fingers, and Brad Pitt is brilliant as Mickey O’Neil, a pikey, or Irish gypsy. Pitt has the slurring slang down so well, the audience (and the other characters) needs subtitles to understand him.
Though his short film for BMW was well received, directing his new wife Madonna in a remake of “Swept Away” didn’t work out so well. On paper, it seems like a glorious idea: the film is macho v. bitch and sex throughout. Besides, Ritchie named the Madonna character after his mother, so theres years of speculation about that. Ritchie would soon put both movie and star behind him, divorcing in 2008, the same year as the magnificent RocknRolla”. Though not as big a hit as his first two, this mixture of criminals is a pure delight. Guy Ritchie propels Mark Strong, Gerard Butler and Tom Hardy into perfect performances, along with corrupt accountant Thandie Newton and an always brilliant Tom Wilkinson, playing against type as never before.
One thing that Ritchie no doubt took away from directing, if not living with, Madonna, was how to handle a “star”. (Brad Pitt, for various reasons, doesn’t count.) Though certainly Robert Downey Jr. is a brilliant actor, his force of will is an obstacle to directing a hyper-budget picture like “Sherlock Holmes”. Whatever it took, both fellows come out looking damn fine. Since most moviegoers to the blockbuster had probably never seen any of Ritchie’s prior work, they most likely just figured that this was a shot in the arm for the great detective. And indeed it was.
More than that, though, it was Guy Ritchie playing the same game, only with wealthier and perhaps smarter bad guys. (There are no women in Ritchie’s films, and even here Rachel McAdams is more one of the boys, and definitely no less villainous.) That shot in the arm is supplied, again, by Ritchie’s genuineness (as much as Downey can be, anyway) and his bag of tricks: perfectly staged fight scenes, at various rates of speed; constant surprises in both plot twists and character (of course, that comes with the Holmes territory); and humor. This is not the feeble junkie either; this Holmes is mind and muscle over matter.
Ritchie is scheduled to do the same thing for the very dusty ’60s TV vehicle, “The Man from UNCLE”. Since the two “Holmes” movies have grossed three-quarters of a billion dollars, it is very likely that Guy Ritchie will have his way from now on.
— Nate Lee
Guy Ritchie’s directing credits include…
|1998||Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels|
|2011||Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows|
|2015||The Man from U.N.C.L.E.|
|2017||King Arthur: Legend of the Sword|