WAY OF THE GUN, written and directed by Oscar-winning writer Christopher
McQuarrie (THE USUAL SUSPECTS), is a migraine headache of gunfire. With
thousands of expended bullets, the movie is a Quentin Tarantino-like
fantasyland of two-bit hoods, bagmen and organized crime, all firing at
each other with a vengeance. Interrupted by regular spurts of
video-game shoot-'em-ups, the uneven film generally drags along as if it
were trying to approximate slow motion without actually resorting to
modifying the speed.
An ambitious movie with a dense storyline of competing characters who
have complicated allegiances, it promises more than it delivers. The
setup and the action sequences are imaginative, but, overall, first-time
director Christopher McQuarrie shows more skills as a writer than a
director. Key sections of the movie sag when they should sizzle.
Others sizzle but are allowed to overcook.
The plot features a couple of low-life losers, Longbaugh (Benicio Del
Toro) and Parker (Ryan Phillippe), who figure that they are bound for a
minimum-wage job or a life of petty crime unless they go looking for the
fortune that is looking for them. Visiting a sperm bank to raise a
little cash, they hit upon their big idea. They hear about a woman,
Robin (Juliette Lewis), who is carrying a rich couple's child so that
the biological mother will not have to be bothered with the pain of
pregnancy and childbirth. Our two Einsteins (Longbaugh and Parker)
figure that all they need to do is kidnap Robin and demand a fortune for
her return. They take the time to find out that the baby's father is an
A-list bad guy.
The frequent stupidity of the kidnappers is a plot thread that never
really pays off, save providing fodder for one of the film's best lines.
"Is he the brains of the outfit or you?" Joe (James Caan) asks Longbaugh
about Parker. "To tell the truth, I don't think this is a brains kind
of outfit," confesses Longbaugh. In general the story's tone is deadly
serious, which is underscored by sober music, heavy on the low
registers. The few comic lines are welcome changes of pace.
The best sequence in the movie is the opening bar fight set outside a
nightclub. As Longbaugh and Parker sit on a long-haired guy's new
Mercedes, the owner and his girl friend threaten them. Using non-stop
profanity, the guy and his girlfriend tell them just what they will do
to them if they don't move immediately. The resulting action is
surprising and hilarious. And, like the rest of the film, very gory.
McQuarrie seems to pride himself on devising new ways to make the
audience squirm. His staging of an "operating room" scene may have even
those with the strongest stomachs heading for the exits.
But even with its many problems, WAY OF THE GUN isn't a bad film. The
story is intriguing, and we are never quite sure what will happen next.
McQuarrie does a masterful job of creating an unusual mood and
atmosphere for the movie. The actor's performances are all good in
revealing so little of their unsympathetic characters that we want to
know exactly what they are thinking.
After about an hour or so, we are more than ready to bid our players
goodbye. The concluding part, when it finally arrives, feels like it
will never end. We want everyone to die in the final bloodbath so we
can finally get the movie over -- its intrigue having long-since given
way to tedium.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes