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THE WAY OF THE GUN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Scott Wilson, James Caan
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Artisan Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: January 2, 2001

Film ****

Of all the movies released this year, Christopher McQuarrie’s The Way of the Gun is the one film of the year that I will instantly dub “The Best Film of the Year that Nobody Saw.” Why this film slipped past audience’s fingers is a mystery to me. It had an appealing cast, an attention-grabbing plot, and was the directorial debut of the man responsible for the brilliant screenplay of one of the greatest movies of the 90s, The Usual Suspects. One could easily assume that this was inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s work, but this film seems more inspired by the work of maverick filmmaker Sam Peckinpah. This is an extremely violent, bloody movie, and the visceral violence in The Way of the Gun is very reminiscent of the cutting edge violence of Peckinpah’s classic The Wild Bunch. Another pleasure I found in this movie is the fact that there’s no real protagonist. Nearly all of the central characters have some deviant trick up their sleeve, providing an endless series of double crosses.

The film’s pre-credit opening will definitely give you a taste of what the movie is. The two lead characters, played by Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro, ignite an unexpected brawl outside a night club after a man’s hot tempered girlfriend threatens both of them very explicitly for leaning on her man’s car and setting off the alarm. It is a riotous moment that is likely to leave you with your jaw to the floor. We then a voice over by Phillippe, which opens with one of the most perfect voice over introductions I’ve ever heard. “For the record, I’ll call myself Mr. Parker, and my associate will be Mr. Longbaugh.” We are then lured into the two’s criminality world.

Parker and Longbaugh are two young criminals who are concerned with only one thing: making a big time score. Parker points out in narration, “It was clear to us that we had nothing to offer the world, so we stepped off the path, and went looking for the fortune that we knew was looking for us.” Their first attempt to gain some income is at a sperm bank, where they overhear a conversation about a millionaire whose seed is being brought to term by a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis). They soon construct a plot to kidnap the pregnant woman, right under the clutches of her personal bodyguards, and hold her for a high ransom. They take her to a remote location in Mexico, and then demand a $15 Million ransom from the soon-to-be-father. This puts not only the bodyguards, played by Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt from Boiler Room, on their tail, as well as local law enforcement, but that of a grizzled old bagman and enforcer named Sarno, played wonderfully by James Caan. Sarno is relied upon by the millionaire (Scott Wilson) to handle negotiations with the kidnappers.

A lot of movies can dish out ugly violence and nothing else, but not in The Way of the Gun. What we get is not only the most outlandish, gory violence to be seen in any recent movie, but a lot of plot as well. Much like his Usual Suspects screenplay, Christopher McQuarrie layers this story with some surprising twists, unique insight into criminal motivations, and wonderfully written dialogue delivered by very well developed characters.

The performances are big factor in the success of The Way of the Gun. Ryan Phillippe, for one, surprised me with a breakthrough performance as the amateurish and risk taking, but smart-thinking Parker. Phillippe is a young actor whose known mostly to the teeny-bopper audience who are familiar with his work in such films as Cruel Intentions and I Know What You Did Last Summer. His performance here is reminiscent of a young Christopher Walken. He delivers his dialogue in a tone that also resembles, at times, a young Al Pacino, even. With this film and his dynamic work in 1998’s Playing By Heart, Ryan Phillippe has arrived as a serious big time actor, breaking free of his clean teen image, which is a smart move on his part. Del Toro, who made a breakthrough performance in The Usual Suspects, is wonderfully smooth and cool as the partner in crime. And veteran James Caan, who shows no sign of slowing down in his age, is ultra-cool in his portrayal of a man who knows every possible angle and double-cross that lingers in a dangerous situation.

The action scenes in The Way of the Gun are of the highest order and quality, and they feel real. When a character in this movie is shot, a lot of blood is shown, and I mean a lot! The climatic showdown which takes place in a rusty Mexican hotel is one of the best staged shootout scenes I’ve ever seen, ranking with that of Heat and even some of the work of John Woo, though this movie doesn’t contain some of the gravity-defying stunts you would find in a Woo film. Numerous characters are shot even in places nobody wants to be shot at if you know what I mean, and I was blown away by that as well.

The Way of the Gun is sheer movie entertainment at its best. Those who appreciate both crime pictures, as well as films with deeply complex plots are in for a slam-bang treat of a movie. With this film, Christopher McQuarrie has arrived as a unique film director, in addition to writing incredible labyrinth-like tales for which he won a much deserved Oscar for in 1995 with The Usual Suspects. The Way of the Gun may have unfortunately missed its mark in theaters, but it has scored very high on this sharpshooter’s best film of the year list.

Video ****

Artisan has delivered by far its best disc to date. The transfer for The Way of the Gun is of stellar and supreme knockout quality. The anamorphic transfer is 100% clear is right on target for the entire viewing. The film mostly takes place in desert landscapes, and the view of the desert comes through in bright yellows and light oranges. Not a single ounce of grain is detected in this presentation. A thoroughly remarkable job!

Audio ****

Never before has gunfire sounded so lively on a disc. The 5.1 Dolby Digital transfer for this movie ranks as Artisan’s best audio job as well! Everything, from the music, to the dialogue, and especially the gunshots come through remarkably and is sure to ignite some jaw-dropping reactions. The sound quality has such a high impact, that I nearly jumped from my chair each time I heard a gun fire. Other than Ronin, I’ve never heard gunfire blast through my speakers in such huge super-quality sound.

Features ***1/2

Artisan has become a pro in the features area, and on The Way of the Gun, they dish out the goods as usual. Included on the disc is a commentary by Christopher McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer, an isolated music-only track along with commentary by composer Joe Kraemer, interview segments with cast and crew members, a script and storyboard presentation of a deleted scene, a trailer and several TV spots, and some cast and crew information.

Summary:

The Way of the Gun is a daring and blazingly entertainment package, filled with razor-sharp wit, fueling intensity, dark humor, and some brilliantly unsettling violence. It’s definitely not for the squeamish, but for those looking an intense, action-packed ride, this is the ultimate ticket.