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The Way of the Gun

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Way of the Gun

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: September 2000
Genres: Noir, Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: James Caan, Taye Diggs, Juliette Lewis, Nicky Katt, Geoffrey Lewis, Scott Wilson

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

When Academy Award winning writer ("The Usual Suspects") and first-time director Christopher McQuarrie sat down to block out "a kidnapping saga as a contemporary western awash in film noir overtones," he had an agenda. It seems McQuarrie was unhappy with the way mainstream Hollywood screenplays handle characters when they behave badly.

"The thing that has continually bothered me about films today is this skewed sense of justice, this false sense of accountability," stated McQuarrie. "In reality, people die all the time and the score isn't evened, their death isn't justified. What's frustrating with Hollywood's approach is that you see someone do a bad deed and they're punished for it 10 times over. Not only is that not reality, but you're telling people that their judgment about anything is okay."

Thanks a heap, Chris. After watching and reading countless news stories about human beings doing unspeakably horrible things to other human beings and getting away with their deeds, what a comfort it is to know that you are out there, striving to insure that movies are just as repulsive as real life.

"The Way of the Gun" follows two creeps as they kidnap a surrogate mother-to-be, only to learn that the target of their ransom demands is a money-laundering, union-busting bagman with a slew of thugs in his employ. The story takes place in some alternate universe, where innocent bystanders stare numbly at gunfights until they are instructed to flee, where men race about shooting at each other with little visible concern over the flying bullets and where no one ever calls the police.

Oh yes, Christopher McQuarrie has this hard-edged reality business down pat.

In his alternate universe, women merely seethe or shriek, while the men-folk pontificate endlessly, lobbing around quotes like: "It's not how long you live, it's how long it takes you to die."

"Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adapter on it."

"Karma is only justice without satisfaction."

"A woman needs security like a man needs approval."

"I think a plan is just a list of things that don't happen."

If there is a Hell, these lil' philosophical nuggets are likely tucked in fortune cookies at all the trendiest Satanic Chinese restaurants.

Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro star as lead baddies Parker and Longbaugh (the real names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, nod nod, wink wink). Phillippe, veteran of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Cruel Intentions," specializes in playing effete jerks with explosive tempers. For this role, he tries to hide his baby-faced cuteness under scruffy facial hair, while mumbling and twitching like a first-year method-acting student. Meanwhile, Del Toro ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "The Usual Suspects") continues his quest to become the only actor to look even more grungy than Mickey Rourke.

After a disgusting, incredibly foul-mouthed opening sequence that screams for a rewrite from someone with the sensitivity of… oh, say, Quentin Tarantino, the boys snag the very pregnant Robin (Juliette Lewis) and soon find themselves up to their ears in chases, gunfights and a group of far more talented actors, including Taye Diggs ("Go," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") as a henchman with uncertain loyalties, Geoffrey Lewis (the man with the leashed fly from "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil") as a suicidal henchman with uncertain loyalties and Scott Wilson ("The Ninth Configuration") as the big bad boss, whose loyalties are, in fact, quite certain. Each actor gives his all, despite having little to work with.

Luckily, James Caan gets enough screen time to make a mark. As Sarno, yet another henchman with uncertain loyalties, Caan uses his creaky, ex-jock presence very effectively, standing over Phillippe and Del Toro like a father over two errant boys. Sure, Caan has done this type of character many times before, but that's only because he's so good at it.

Besides the aforementioned actors, there are two bits of business that make "The Way of the Gun" tolerable. First is a slow-motion car chase that is patently unbelievable, but ingeniously staged. Second is a running joke about cell phones. In most films, cell phones are almost miraculously reliable, but here we see exasperated thugs dialing up numbers only to hear that the party they are trying to reach is "unavailable, or out of the service area."

Now that's realism.

Had McQuarrie ditched his silly agenda and focused more on Caan's character while spending less time with the twenty-something nitwits, this might have been an engaging diversion. As is, "The Way of the Gun" comes off as just another needlessly dense, derivative, smug and depressing throwaway.

Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott

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