Friday, November 26, 2010

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

One of the storytelling games that my group has been considering dabbling in, that might be suitable as an introduction to the style, is Fiasco. This game simulates a very particular genre of movie, a kind that the Coen Brothers are particularly fond of: the kind where everything goes from bad to worse to terrible, and everyone in the movie is doomed. Or so it was described to me: it's not a genre with which I am very familiar, and the nearest thing to a movie in the category that I know is Fargo (and I don't even know that one very well). So I set out to watch a movie that was suggested as a representative example, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, so I could prepare for playing Fiasco and confirm I wanted to.

In the interest of having time to watch it, I used my Archos and headphones to watch in 15-minute blocks while doing my exercise. Because of the timing of other things interrupting, it took almost two weeks. I imagine that might have dulled the impact of the movie a bit, but I don't think it was as big an impact as it might be on some movies.

The acting seemed solid, but it's not like any of the actors were really being challenged particularly. I found the soundtrack to be very effective in setting the tone, though in a few spots it was a tiny bit overdone, and sometimes it made it hard to make out the words through the thick accents. (Still, you could generally tell what was going on, and if you couldn't make out a word, odds were good it was just an expletive anyway.) I liked the cinematography a lot, particularly the way the camera moved sometimes (though again, Guy Ritchie sometimes overdoes it with the camera effects).

As for the story... the idea that it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion is quite apt. The thing is, only once in a while did I find myself feeling like I particularly cared about the dooms that were slowly hurtling towards the various characters. That's because I didn't care about them. The nearest anyone in the film gets to being likeable is being hapless and comically inept in their antisocial behavior. The most likeable characters are a Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern pair who are totally bumbling, and who get virtually no screen time. Close behind are the four "main characters" who are sympathetic only to the extent that they feel like more-flawed versions of ourselves, doing the wrong things in the wrong ways but for reasons that aren't totally wrong, unlike most everyone else who does things for the worst reasons.

Even so, the sense of impending doom over them added to only a small amount of suspense. Part of that is that it was clear where things were going, but in any regular action movie you know how that's going to end, too, and there's still suspense, because you want to know how they're going to get there. In this case, I didn't wonder even that, first because it seemed pretty obvious how (though in some cases the obvious answer wasn't the right answer), and second because it didn't seem important how they got there, it wasn't something I really cared that much about. Near the end when the chips (and bodies) began to fall, some of the disasters seemed as improbable as the escapes in action movies, which I suppose lends a certain karmic balance to the world, but which somehow feels more contrived at times. Or maybe I'm just not as inured to it. Some of the lack of suspense comes from not caring about the characters -- even the ones I was supposed to want to see get their comeuppance, I didn't care that much about it when they got it.

But there's also the fact that, in an action movie, you know that even if the hero ultimately triumphs it may be at some cost; there may be consequences he or she will have to live with. In a debacle movie, the symmetry is broken because, even if you know what the outcome is going to be, one reason not to care so much how they get there is there's not much room for costs and consequences. Once doom falls upon you in a movie like this, nothing else really matters.

All in all, the movie feels like something I wouldn't've resented having watched while on a plane or something, but I wouldn't pick it as something to spend a few hours on if I had something else to choose. I'll probably watch one or two more movies in the genre to get a better idea of what was unique to this movie and what was more general to the genre.


Julya said...

As suggested before, why don't you try Reservoir Dogs?

In certain ways, Pulp Fiction may also qualify, butthen Quentin has a dark style where death is not shunned, and in no way regular

litlfrog said...

My experience was different because I was really pulling for those four characters to win. They weren't the most law-abiding bunch of guys, but they were loyal and not malicious or evil.