This story teaches us about an age-old problem: How to have adventure without ambition. It is, of course, the story of several groups of criminals, some of whom are organized. It seems they agree with mankind that it is good to have money, preferably without earning it. They differ in their estimation of the price of money.
For different reasons, these people break the law constantly. They therefore do not fear the consequences of breaking the law, they only fear getting caught or failing to get that for which they break the law. They may be said to be guilty of an enthusiastic pursuit of what they think is good. Now, they differ as to the manner in which they endeavor to enrich themselves. Some sell pleasure, some deal in fear. Of the former, we are only interested in those who deceive by the promise of selling pleasure, illegal pleasures specifically.
Now, the criminals are of two kinds, leaders & followers. The former make the plans, despise their incompetent followers, & suffer considering the endless miserable fate that attends their best efforts. The latter bicker, suffer their beatings & insults, & wait in the hope of a better tomorrow. But the difficulty of the story seems to be that neither group has much reason to expect success. It is the nature of their business that they come to compete.
Now, the competition which arouses our interest is not that between criminals & mere citizens; that is hardly a contest. It may suggest something about innocence that citizens are at best collateral damage. The real competition is between different criminals. Some have acquired things they wish to protect, others wish to acquire what the others wish to protect. It is likely a consequence of their fixation with money that there is so much accidental killing.
Our four protagonists are not big criminals. They do small-time confidence scams, they sell stolen goods, & they involve themselves in illegal gambling. Only gambling really showcases the strange kind of pride a certain kind of criminal must feel. The gambler gets them in trouble, because he thinks that figuring people out means escaping fate. The four have common enemies. They share first in love of money, then in fear of death.
Finally, there is one scene which is a show of great brutality. A man has threatened another man’s child. The reaction is quite horrifying. More than anything else, it shows the extent to which anger & fear are connected, the extent to which aggression serves an essentially defensive position. It is not an accident that that man has a boy but not a wife. The alternative to this life of crime is the family.
Guy Ritchie‘s darkest, wittiest comedy.