Saturday, May 8, 2010

Where is Guy Ritchie's Best Director Oscar?

It can be a challenge to enjoy a movie containing many inaudible lines of dialogue. Hearing and understanding what a character is saying is of vital importance to following the plot and flow of a film. If a key piece of information is uttered in an indistinguishable tone, this could perhaps lead to confusions by the viewer later in the film.

I feel like this is the only reason why Guy Ritchie doesn't win Best Directing Oscars. If it wasn't for the lines and lines of gibberish scattered throughout every one of his films, Mr. Ritchie would be recognized up on that pedestal next to George Lucas and Peter Jackson (who get away with the very same thing because the characters we don't understand are of a different species. What a cop-out.)

But there is another layer of difficulties implemented by Ritchie to, I assume, drive away even more viewers. In his films, he tends to introduce dozens of characters, one after another, making sure he passes the point where you are able to remember who is who when they return at a later point in the story. This is an integral Guy Ritchie directorial move.

If Guy brings us to the point where we are watching a character, yet do not understand a word he/she is saying, and have no idea who he/she is, we have reached the pinnacle. Guy Ritchie will then put his director's cap away and call it a day: mission accomplished.

Our first introduction to Guy Ritchie films was Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. (By 'first' I mean first film that anyone has heard of.) I would describe the plot, but it doesn't really matter. At the very beginning, we are introduced to a group of four friends, who's names are irrelevant and who's accents are excellent. They really make it hard to put any accent above British on the list of Best Accents (with Bostonian uttered by anyone not in Good Will Hunting finishing last of course.) As the movie progresses, the viewers discover the rest of the endless list of characters that pull Ritchie's first film together: Big Chris and his son, the pot dealing roommates, the card players and the club owner, the next door neighbors, the rich black guy, etc. The key factor here is that I have seen this movie at least half a dozen times and only remember the name of one character: Winston. (I had to look up Big Chris' name because I couldn't figure out an easy way to describe him.)

Because of this dilemma, in his next film, Guy Ritchie decided to open by listing all the characters we will see during the movie, one after another, with a little picture for us to put a name to a face. I am not sure if this is a coincidence, but I know the name of every character in the movie Snatch. Every single one. By the time of my sixth Snatch viewing, I knew everyone, so I was ready to start remembering classic quotes. This is where I am sure Ritchie recognized his mistake. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels allows for occasional quote recognition, but since you do not remember who is saying it, the quote loses some luster. Since Ritchie had the opposite affect with Snatch, in that every character was memorable, he had to make the dialogue impossible to distinguish in order to finish with the same result. Now, we have quotes from Turkish and Mickey and Brick Top that are awesome, I assume, but we would have to check a script to be sure.

As Guy Ritchie's career progressed, I feel like he was given some bad advice. He was told, somewhere along the line, that making movies like this is a bad idea. I hope he fired that PR rep, but before he did, he made the movie Sherlock Holmes. Now, before you go off about how much money this movie made and how popular it was, just remember that it got Ritchie away from his roots. Rather than even attempting to infuriate the movie goers with lists and lists of characters, he simply picked a story with characters the public already knew. This was a real step back for Guy Ritchie's career. It would be like if Pablo Picasso, in the middle of his career, had switched to painting faces with all the eyes and ears and noses where they belonged. Sure, more people would understand it, but he would have lost his artistic expression. You could tell Guy battled with this dilemma throughout Sherlock Holmes, forcing himself at a number of points, to at least throw in some dialogue that we couldn't understand. He had to, to save his craft.

Mr. Ritchie has a number of films in the works, with 2011 and 2012 expected release dates. I am not sure which direction he is heading in. Perhaps he is moving even more mainstream. (I'd make another painter analogy but I don't know the correct affiliation.) Let's hope that he stays true to who he is though. The day I can use a quote from a Guy Ritchie film in everyday conversation is the day he failed me as a director.

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