U.S. Release Date: September 8, 2000
Running Time: 119 minutes
MPAA Classification: R (Language, sexual situations, violence/gore)
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, James Caan, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, Geoffrey Lewis, Scott Wilson, Kristin Lehman
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Producer: Kenneth Kokin
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie
By STEPHEN EARNEST / December 28, 2011
Christopher McQuarrie’s directorial debut, The Way of the Gun, is a stylish and offbeat re-imagining of the classic Western that starts — and ends — with a very loud bang. It may get far-fetched and outlandish at times, but never so much that we become uninterested.
The plot focuses on Parker (Ryan Phillippe doing an uncouth impression of Marlon Brando) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro), a couple of criminals looking for the ultimate score. Their time comes when they overhear a conversation about a woman that is carrying a child for a wealthy couple, and the two get a rather clever idea: kidnap the woman and hold her unborn child for ransom until the couple decides to pay up. Well, their plan goes through, but there’s one thing that they haven’t reckoned with: the father of the child is Hale Chidduck, who happens to have a lengthy criminal background. One thing leads to another and pretty soon an all-out war is started between the kidnappers and Chidduck, who sends his henchmen out instead to take care of business.
Regardless of the slow pace, The Way of the Gun is handled quite well by McQuarrie, who seems pretty confident his first time out as director. He delivers a much-needed sense of style that is essential for a movie like this, especially in the film’s well-choreographed climax, but the real strength comes from his script. There isn’t a whole lot of originality to speak of, but that’s not saying there isn’t fun to be had. Channeling Peckinpah, McQuarrie sends his characters into the heat of desert, ready for action. But instead of heroes clad in trench coats and dark sunglasses, we get bulletproof-vested criminals wielding shotguns.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about McQuarrie’s script is that he doesn’t make the characters of Parker and Longbaugh inept or moronic like most movie criminals so often are. He derives their names from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and sort of gives them some of the same qualities. That’s not saying that they’re perfect — they do manage to screw up a few times — but they’re smart and they plan ahead and a lot of their maneuvers are quite genius. The same goes for the opposing team. This way both sides are equally matched.
McQuarrie’s realistic approach also highly benefits the mood of the film. He keeps the action stylish, but does not over-exaggerate it. There is none of that choppy or heavily-edited gunplay that so often plagues modern-day crime movies. Everything is pulled off with straight-forward realism. We witness one of the world’s slowest car chases and a gun battle where our heroes are actually injured.
The Way of the Gun is also very dialogue-heavy. You saw this in McQuarrie’s previous script, The Usual Suspects, as well. He makes the character of Parker verbose and almost philosophical with his wording, and it’s his character that provides us with most of the film’s one-liners (“Fifteen million dollars is not money. It’s a motive with a universal adapter on it”).
The acting is not exactly top-notch, but there a couple of serviceable performances, most notably the one from James Caan, who plays yet another tough guy. This is a role that Caan finds himself in quite often, but here he brings an unexpected amount of heart to the character of Joe Sarno, possibly because it’s the one character that most adequately summarizes his acting career.
In a world of sub-standard action flicks, The Way of the Gun stands out. It doesn’t glamorize violence; it studies it. And while it may have its share of flaws, it’s engaging, involving, and a good start for McQuarrie as a director.