Before Jason Statham was a household name, he made ends meet selling cheap jewelry on busy street corners. Statham could rake in a couple of thousand dollars a week pulling off elaborate, con-like sales pitches with fun names like “Five-Pound Nailers” and “The Run Out.” So when up-and-coming British filmmaker Guy Ritchie heard about Statham’s unique set of skills, he knew he’d found the perfect actor for his dark comedy about small-time hustlers. Never mind that Statham had never acted before—or that Ritchie had never directed a feature-length film.
Despite their inexperience, the two scrappy upstarts revolutionized British action cinema with their 1998 crime caper “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. The film became an international hit that launched Ritchie and Statham’s careers, both separately and together. And now the old friends are reuniting for the first time in 16 years for the new movie “Wrath of Man”, the story of a mysterious cash truck security guard looking for vengeance. It’s the dawn of a new era for Ritchie and “the Stath,” and that makes this the perfect time for action movie fans to revisit their dynamic partnership.
“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998)
Even two decades later, this astonishingly confident debut still sizzles with style. Right from the opening scene that sees his character hawking stolen goods, Statham emerges as the perfect avatar for Ritchie’s love of Cockney tough guys and two-timing wheeling and dealing. Indeed, Ritchie’s clever script tells a complicated, sprawling ensemble crime story that eventually folds in on itself in a brilliantly satisfying, darkly hilarious way. Everything we now love about Ritchie’s stylish filmmaking and Statham’s stoic yet charismatic movie star persona have their origins in this delightfully pulpy flick.
Ritchie’s next film, “Snatch“, takes everything that’s great about “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and doubles it. Working with a bigger budget and more Hollywood clout, Ritchie was able to rope in a star-studded cast that includes Benicio del Toro, Dennis Farina, and Brad Pitt as an eccentric Irish bare-knuckle boxer. But Ritchie stayed loyal to Statham too. He cast him in the bigger role of Turkish, a small-time boxing promoter caught under the thumb of a ruthless gangster. Statham even narrates the film, providing the perfect edge of brusque commentary to another sprawling crime story.
Snatch hints at the comedic chops Statham would eventually put to full use in “Spy” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw“. (“Protection from what? ‘Zee Germans?’”) And it’s also the film where Ritchie’s signature style fully snapped into focus. Snatch is full of sleek editing, brutal violence, irreverent dialogue, and tons of slow-motion boxing, all of which have remained Ritchie staples in movies ranging from the “Sherlock Holmes” franchise to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
After that knockout one-two punch, Statham and Ritchie reunited for their most polarizing collaboration in “Revolver“—a film that starts like a classic crime caper about a con man, only to transform into a philosophical meditation on Kabbalah and the psychological nature of ego. “Revolver” is a weird movie, not least of all because it features Statham rocking a goatee and long hair. It was a box office bomb that currently sits at 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. But, for those who don’t mind a little pretentious oddness in their bone-crunching action flicks, “Revolver” actually has a lot to offer.
Statham plays Jake Green, a former convict with a secret formula for winning any game or con. When he’s suspiciously diagnosed with a fatal blood disease, however, Jake falls in league with two mysterious criminals as he tries to figure out what’s real, what’s not, and who he can trust. With fun performances from Ray Liotta, André Benjamin, and Mark Strong—not to mention a surprisingly dramatic turn from Statham—”Revolver” is like “Snatch” by way of “Donnie Darko” with a touch of “Memento“. The film website Collider even recently called it, “a bonkers piece of genre cinema gold, an avant-garde film noir boiling with electric filmmaking, an ahead-of-its-time gem.”
Though “Revolver” was a critical and commercial failure, you can still see Ritchie’s visual evolution at play (especially during an assassination sequence rendered in animation). Unfortunately, the film also marked a temporary end to Statham and Ritchie’s collaborations.
The duo have gone their separate ways in Hollywood over the past decade and a half, with Statham joining blockbuster franchises like “The Transporter“, “The Expendables“, and “Fast & Furious“, while Ritchie’s helmed hits like “Aladdin” and “The Gentlemen“. But they never lost track of each other either. “Jason and I, I think we’ve had the same relationship for the 22 years we’ve known each other,” Ritchie told Yahoo Entertainment. “And I find it mutually respectful, always has been.”
The trailer for “Wrath of Man” looks like a stripped-back return to their roots for Statham and Ritchie—one that combines the gritty action of their early work with the sleeker style of their more recent projects. With a spy thriller called “Five Eyes” on the horizon too, this could be the (re)start of a beautiful cinematic friendship.