The Way of the Gun

Rated R for strong violence/gore, language and some sexuality
Running Time: 118 minutes
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Release date: 9/8/2000
Aqaba Productions / Artisan Entertainment
I took a glance at the so-called talent headlining The Way of the Gun – Ryan Phillippe, wearing a ratty, pitiful excuse for a beard, mush-mouthed Benicio Del Toro, and the always-offensive Juliette Lewis – and my first instinct was to write it off immediately as a dreadful stinker.

 

Then I took a closer look – with Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning scribe of the brilliant The Usual Suspects, at the helm, and some talented secondary players (James Caan, Nicky Katt, Taye Diggs, Dylan Kussman) – and I thought that maybe this has some potential after all.

Though I was tempted to go in expecting great things, I dialed it back a few notches after remembering I’m going to have to stare at the unlikable mugs of Phillippe and Del Toro for two hours.

The tension is slow in the building but good, there are some fine performances, although the dialogue can be iffy and sometimes things just feel forced, like McQuarrie was trying too hard, and there are some plot issues that merit some concern.

So while McQuarrie does not hit the bull’s-eye here like he did with Suspects, he is on target often enough to keep you both interested and entertained.

The Plot

Parker and Longbaugh are a couple of career criminals who have stumbled upon what may be the last job they’ll ever have to pull.

They hear about a rich couple that has hired a surrogate mother to have a child for them. With little more than the name of the doctor seeing the expectant mother, they put together a plan to kidnap her and hold her for ransom.

Sorry folks, but that’s all you’re going to get – anything more would be blabbing, and that just isn’t my style.

The Players

Does the way Ryan Phillippe talks bother anyone else? Sometimes he sounds as if his tongue is a pair of scissors, clipping off words as they try and come out of his mouth. Phillippe can act, but he is miscast as Parker – he just doesn’t have a badass enough look, which is a total discredit to the character.

Parker has seen and done some horrible things, but in having shunned the normalcy of a 9 to 5 life, there are some things he’s missed out on.

Unfortunately, this aspect of Parker’s character is handled quite jaggedly, and as a result comes off as both unexpected and unbelievable. Phillippe does the best he can, but I would much rather have seen someone like Giovanni Ribisi tackle Parker – I think that alone would have made the film work better.

I never understood – and still don’t – why so many people talked up Benicio Del Toro after The Usual Suspects. He was easily the weakest piece of the movie, and I think it would have played even better without him at all. As Longbaugh, however, he does a pretty good job as Parker’s unrepentant, gritty partner, although he still has a long way to go in vanquishing the bad feelings I have concerning him.

There isn’t much to Longbaugh that you can’t tell just by looking at him, and Del Toro plays up this aspect to good effect in just the way he moves around and looks at people. A better casting job on both Parker and Longbaugh could have been done, but it wasn’t a total disaster like I anticipated.

Juliette Lewis always seems to play women who are, well, low-rent might be the best way of putting it, and I think there something to that (no, that is not a compliment). Her portrayal of Robin never goes into the red line on the annoy-o-meter, but it comes close on occasion.

Scott Wilson is good and actually quite layered as Hale Chidduck, which is about what I’ve come to expect from him as one of the more underrated character actors around.

Taye Diggs jumps off the screen and demands your attention as Jeffers, one of Chidduck’s bodyguards assigned to watching after Robin.

Diggs is going to hit the big-time, sooner as opposed to later, bet money on that. After great work in Boiler Room, Nicky Katt puts in a decent but smaller turn as Obecks, Jeffer’s tag-team partner. And how cool is it to see Dylan Kussman, who’s been dormant for ages (he popped up on The X-Files last season, but before that I hadn’t seen him since he was the dorky Cameron in Peter Weir’s fabulous Dead Poets Society) but does great work as Allan Painter, Robin’s doctor.

And of course, James Caan is excellent as Joe Sarno, a crafty, veteran buttonman for Chidduck who’s been around the block more times that even he can count.

His voice was custom-made for gangster parts, and he still has enough left in the tank to knock pip-squeaks like Phillippe and Del Toro over with a hard glare.

The Production Values

For the most part, I liked the way McQuarrie shot the film. Even if the pace gets dogged at times, I thought it worked well and helped generate some good slow burn building towards the movie’s climax. Some people are likely going to sound off on his cribbing from The Wild Bunch, but I never get tired of an homage to a classic scene, especially when it is done well. Of particular note are the opening sequence (which will be talked about for a while), and an early car chase scene, which is clever and well executed. This is not a bad directorial debut at all in my book (hey, not everyone can be Spielberg right out of the gate).

The Pronouncement

There is something about this film that is a bit esoteric, I think in a the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts kind of way. Frankly, I found some pieces of the plot to be a little confusing, and unlike in some instances where a bit of ambiguity can enhance the plot, it was a little distracting for me. The characters, while not very likable, certainly can be intriguing during portions of the film. Some people at the screening I attended complained that the ending was counterproductive to the plot up until that point, but I rather enjoyed it, there is lots of good tension that I found quite exciting. Worth checking out for the opening scene and the early car chase alone.

Rating – 3

Give it a look-see at a matinee or twilight showing – but avoid the trailer and the movie poster at all costs (the former gives too much away, the latter is unbearable to look at).


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