The Way of the Gun
2000, R, 119 min. Directed by Christopher Mcquarrie. Starring Geoffrey Lewis, Kristin Lehman, Dylan Kussman, James Caan, Scott Wilson, Nicky Katt, Taye Diggs, Juliette Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 8, 2000
It should be obvious that a movie called The Way of the Gun is an unrepentantly violent and remorseless tale, as is fitting for a story about a couple of hard-core criminals to whom mercy represents nothing but a river in England. These two make no excuses for their lifestyle, nor do they seek forgiveness. They live by the gun and expect to die by it. And anyone who gets caught in their line of fire is simply having an unlucky day. This new movie, written and directed by The Usual Suspects' Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, is not so much a twisty crime story as a gnarly psychological thriller about criminal behavior. No one is pure, and motives can only explain so much. This world-view shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that this is the writer who showed us the embodiment of pure evil in The Usual Suspects' character of Keyser Soze. Like that previous tale, the story McQuarrie chose for his directing debut is a convoluted bundle of inter-related characters and situations, whose connections are revealed only gradually. Those who found the complexities of The Usual Suspects to be too self-serving and toyingly clever are unlikely to find any relief in McQuarrie's new one. Others who view The Way of the Gun as a Tarantino-esque knockoff are unlikely to discover the originality of this story's unremitting bad guys. Phillippe and Del Toro play opportunistic criminals named Parker and Longbaugh (the real surnames of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), who overhear a conversation about a nine-months-pregnant surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis). They kidnap her in a bloody shoot-out and plan to hold her for ransom, but their impulsive action thrusts them deep into the heart of a sinkhole of double-crosses. In many ways the film bears a greater resemblance to the Western than to the crime genre, as these vagabond gunslingers defy civilization and all attempts to rein them in. Certainly the film's final shootout in the plaza of a ratty whorehouse south of the border is a clear reminder of The Wild Bunch. But even this does not fully prepare the viewer for some of the film's more outré bloodletting. If nothing else, The Way of the Gun is an actors' showcase, all the players deliver performances that kill. Phillippe sheds his heretofore wispy persona to play this affectless murderer, Del Toro steals practically every scene he's in with his confident swagger and native intelligence, Caan has one of his best roles ever as an aging practitioner of “the art of adjudication,” and father-and-daughter actors Geoffrey and Juliette Lewis imbue their characters with rich veins of honesty and truth. McQuarrie's direction is interesting in the way he chooses how to dole out the information in a scene and shows promise of greater things to come once he's no longer shackled to telling only crime stories. The Way of the Gun will probably benefit from subsequent viewings, which is not necessarily a good thing to say about a movie. But following the film blight of the summer of 2000, the desire to see anything a second time comes as a welcome relief.