Poker on Screen: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)


Each week, we look at a different place poker has turned up on screen. Some weeks, that’s in a series dedicated to the game we love. Other occasions feature an obscure reference in a movie that really should have been forgotten a long time ago.

poker-on-screen-lock-stock-and-two-smoking-barrels-1998Quite clearly, this week, we are talking about the latter.

It’s hard to fathom in this age of #MeToo quite how Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels ever got off the ground other than it being a product of its time. It’s violent yet bland, brutal yet unimaginative and the star of the movie, Nick Moran, is the least charismatic actor in every scene he participates in, which is saying something where one scene features him on his own with a table. The table was nominated for a BAFTA.

The plot if risible, but it includes everything you might expect is in a London gangster movie. There’s swearing, fighting, drinking and most importantly of all, all three at once in virtually every scene.

Oddly, however, given just how much dialogue there is in the movie, line after line of machismo being spouted by one cartoon caricature after another, the poker scene features no words at all. It’s quite clear what Guy Ritchie might have wanted the audience to feel; here is a scene so evocative that no words could do it justice, no language could illustrate this symphony of cardplay better than light background music and some slo-motion.

OK, a lot of slo-motion.

The scene in question features Nick Moron, ahem, Moran, giving lots of heavy-lidded stares across the table at three clichés with whom he appears to be playing a game of poker with a chip set that was bought for £1.99 at Home Bargains.

Cue lots of drinking – whisky, obviously, from a passed bottle – flicking of cards at the camera and grimacing. The grimacing symbolizes their hardened natures. The card-flinging represents each character’s Dystopian view of their own poisoned circumstances. Possibly.

What it really boils down to is a complete lack of understanding of what poker should look like, sound like or at a base-level, just feel like. Choreographed like a music video that has been directed by the town drunk, the scene would leave a man with an iron stomach feeling sick to the bottom if it.

It is unfair to say that the poker scene in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is complete nonsense. Nonsense would be entertaining. What really is a mystery is the fact that ‘Lock Stock’ only cost a million dollars to make and somehow garnered receipts worth over $30 million at the box office.

Nick Moran went on to make some View-on-Demand pictures starring Craig ‘Eastenders does Poker’ Fairbrass. Guy Ritchie went on to marry Madonna, make Snatch then divorce Madonna. Maybe she played poker against him and couldn’t understand why he was throwing the cards around the room while swigging from a bottle of whisky.

Watch for yourselves and judge, but be warned: you are not going to get the next 80 seconds of your life back.