Some of my favorite villains are the ones it’s harder to see coming. For example, if someone in a story is covered in scars, wears spiky black armor, or has long white hair and red eyes, you know they’re destined to be the bad guys of their setting. It’s kind of an obvious shorthand to let us know as the audience that such a character is to be feared, and while under the right circumstances there’s nothing wrong with an intimidating appearance, there are plenty of ways to make a character fearsome without using such obvious tricks. Such is the case with Brick Top, the main villain of the movie Snatch.
Upon seeing Brick Top, for instance, he doesn’t look like he’s going to be much. He’s an old man with bad teeth, coke-bottle glasses, and a thick Cockney accent. This is no shot at the appearance of actor Alan Ford, so much as pointing out that when I think scary criminal mastermind, my first thought isn’t him. That said, Brick Top quickly proves that force of personality goes a much longer way towards being scary than would giant muscles or the like. On our first meeting with Brick Top, he has a man killed with a plastic bag over the head, presumably for some sort of disloyalty, and then sends him to be fed to pigs, his preferred method of disposing of bodies.
Brick Top eschews the image of the classy gangster about as harshly as he can. Just about everything he gets up to is sleazy and awful, whether it’s fixing boxing matches or running a dog-fighting ring, universally regarded (and rightly so!) as the domain of the worst sort of lowlife. He gladly tortures and starves these dogs, as well as his pigs, in order to make them vicious and dangerous. There is nothing of likeability in the man from the various activities we see him engage in from a distance, and it’s easy to get the impression that he rose to the top of his organization by simply being meaner and nastier than everyone else.
In addition to this, what we see Brick Top do to the other important characters in the story is also nasty. His presence is so intimidating that he cows much younger and stronger men just through his harsh voice and intense threats. To be sure, he has hired muscle, and his personality goes a long way, but he is also not above violence himself. When one of his boxing matches goes awry and an unsatisfied customer complains to him, Brick Top slams him to the wall, threatens him, and slices his thigh open with a knife. He turns his dogs loose on jewel thieves Vinny, Sol, and Tyrone, and forces Turkish to make him tea before taking the man’s entire savings. Then, worst of all, he burns Mickey’s mother alive inside her trailer when the boxer won’t fight for him.
Brick Top isn’t all-powerful, however. We see that at least some of his investors, probably very rich and crooked men themselves, become angry with him over some of the various blunders surrounding his boxing matches, and rather than threaten them, he promises to make it up to them. It’s unclear just what their relationship is, but like most criminals, he probably needs at least some complicity from people in power, and it’s likely that bribing them with sure thing bets is how Brick Top accomplishes this. Rather than this making him seem more vulnerable, however, Brick Top is the sort of man who passes such threats downward, making life miserable for those who caused his problems, and thus leaving him even more dangerous when his well-being is on the line.
Brick Top is solid proof that all it takes to be evil is the will to hurt others severely. He isn’t flashy, he isn’t classy, he isn’t superhuman. He’s just the biggest bastard in his domain, and he has no limits on what he’ll do or who he’ll do it to. And for all that, he’s plenty terrifying. This scene captures his essence quite well, I think.