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"The Way of the Gun"

Starring: Ryan Phillipe, Benicio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, Scott Wilson and James Caan

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie. Produced by Kenneth Kokin and Russell D. Markowitz. Cinematography by Dick Pope. Editing by Stephen Semel. Casting by Lynn Kressel and Cate Praggastis. Music by Joe Kraemer

Chris McQuarrie must be Sam Peckinpach's grandson. The Way of the Gun is a non stop series of shootouts with a grand finale in a Mexican whorehouse. Bodies pile up and blood gushes. Who else would sponsor this carnage than Artisan? Produced by Aqaba Productions and Artisan Entertainment. Rated R for the bloody hell of it. Runtime is 118 minutes

Reviewed by Scorpion Joe


Summary and Rating

Director/Screenwriter Chris McQuarrie is Hot! He showed us with one of the best screenplays of the '90s: "The Usual Suspects" and his big step into directing demonstrates the same level of talent with The Way of the Gun". Fast paced action, endless plot twists, rich characters, wonderful staging, cinematography, production design and music run throughout this film. Incredibly violent and sometimes downright icky, this film is not for everyone but if films like The Wild Bunch and Reservoir Dogs are your thing, you will want to go see The Way of the Gun. Five Grins for an outstanding work. Thank god after all the pabulum that was served up this summer.



Story

Waiting to earn some quick cash at a sperm donor bank, two bad boys, Parker and Longbaugh (Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro) overhear the receptionist talking about a surrogate mom carrying a baby for a multi-millionaire and his too-busy-to-be-bothered wife. The mom, Robin, (Juliette Lewis) is guarded by a group of nasty bodyguards headed by Jeffers (Taye Diggs). The first of many shootouts results in success for the kidnappers and lots of bodyguard bodies. Turns out the rich client who hired Robin to carry the baby is no dot.com mogul. Rather, he has earned his fortune doing things that wouldn't sit well with most law enforcement agencies. Therefore, instead of relying on the police, he resorts to his own resources. And they are a mean set of hombres. One team is headed by Jeffers; young, arrogant, and tough. Turns out Jeffers is not what you would consider a loyal employee. The other team is headed by Joe Sarno (James Caan). Sarno, a "button man" from the old school has been around the block more than once. Cagey and clever, Sarno stalks his prey with the grace of the cunning jaguar. Aside from other plot twists that if I told you, would spoil this movie, the hunt is on with a race between the two teams and the prey. Who will win and who will leave their entrails rotting in the desert sun?

Review

Not that this is intended to be a knock at Bryan Singer but to me, it always felt that "The Usual Suspects" really was a triumph of incredible scriptwriting rather than directing. The screenwriter for Suspects was Christopher McQuarrie who makes his directorial debut in "The Way of the Gun" and yes, it's an absolute gem. From the opening scene forward, this movie never stops to take a breath. In fact, the opening scene, through great writing and staging tells you what you need to know about the two leading characters, Parker and Longbaugh. It's about showing and not telling which is what this scene does so well.

McQuarrie and his editor, Stephen Semel are masters of compression. A definition of compression is to reduce the time it takes to provide necessary plot information to the audience. McQuarrie delivers the entire motivation for the kidnapping by putting his camera on the two leads while overhearing a phone conversation at the sperm bank. Everything you need to know in 30 seconds. The only other places where McQuarrie short-cuts and delivers information directly to the audience is by using two quick narrative voice-overs of Parker which serve as a nice prologue and epilogue to the story. Other than these script points, you learn about all the characters in the film by watching, observing, and most of all paying attention. As the story progresses, you learn things about each character, who they are, what motivates them, and their relationships to the other characters in the story. The pieces of McQuarrie's elaborate jigsaw puzzle come together in the midst of non-stop action and the more you learn about the people who inhabit this world, the more invested you become in their fate and in this film. Add to this, elaborate, sometimes almost unbelievable plot twists and shoot-outs that rival Natural Born Killers or The Wild Bunch and McQuarrie's got ya. Great movies pay attention to the golden rule of good filmmaking: don't bore or confuse your audience and while there may be a couple points where you could get lost in this film, you are certainly never bored. For those who don't want to have unfettered violence as part of their cinematic diet, The Way of the Gun is not for you. There is a particularly graphic scene staged in a Mexican whorehouse where Robin is assisted by a medic of questionable skill during childbirth. Ugh!

It is said that good casting is 70% of a director's job. The cast of Gun is excellent with each character having a signature trait that sets them apart. Del Toro is marvelous in his inquisitive studied look at the world. Diggs just breeds hate and contempt while talking like a mergers and acquisitions specialist. Phillipe makes a great young punk and Lewis's character is similar to the borderline nutcase she played in NBK. Caan goes through the film with you believing that he has the world-class stiff neck. The vicious scar below his jaw has you wondering what he was involved in to get such a hideous wound. The man carries himself like a building contractor or utility man, which is just the job he has in this film. Unlike so many films, McQuarrie pays attention to his people and because of it, they breathe.

This is an action film. Staging and blocking are critical. While McQuarrie has written a dynamite screenplay, if staging is blown, the movie is lost. Doesn't happen in The Way of the Gun. Great staging runs all the way through the film but my favorite scene is in the first chase between the bodyguards and the kidnappers down a series of alleys. Think about it. How many times have you seen a car chase scene? Ever since the days of films like Bullett and The French Connection, its all about how fast the cars go, how often the car gets airborne, and how many things and people they knock over along the way. Not so here. Instead, McQuarrie takes it slow. The getaway car coasts on its own with the kidnappers using it for cover while ducking behind doorways and dumpsters. This cat and mouse game between hunter and hunted added so much more tension than the usual squealing tire, breaking glass and stunt players diving out of the way.

I could and would love to go on and on. The wonderful production design behind rundown motels, whorehouses, sperm banks, and sterile millionaire castles. The excellent cinematography with shots like Parker and a convenience store clerk watching a video of the unborn baby by looking into the video monitor that looks right back at them. The dramatic film noir lighting used throughout most of the film. You get the point. I loved this movie. It's dramatic, it's tense, it's exciting, it's fresh and it's a great example of a filmmaker working at the top of his game. It's not for everyone but if you can deal with the high quantity of shooting and killing, The Way of the Gun will rock your world.

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