After winning an academy award for his work on The Usual Suspects (1995), writer/director Christopher McQuarrie hadn’t expected to run into much trouble getting his next movie made, but soon discovered that the studios weren’t prepared to offer him any projects with much creative control. Not wanting to be pigeonholed as a crime writer for the rest of his career he hoped to work on a story of a different nature. It wasn’t meant to be. In the end, Benicio del Toro (of Suspects fame) managed to convince McQuarrie to make another crime film. The crime angle would grant him at least some degree of over the project’s direction. And, I think del Toro has a thing for characters on the ragged edge of society, so it all works out. In a nutshell, that’s how The Way of the Gun (2000) came to be. Also, everyone seems to hate it. So, it’s up to me to convince you to see the film anyway.
Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro play Mr. Parker and Mr. Longbaugh (pseudonyms, referring to Redford and Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), two small time criminals who are looking for their one shot at making bank. They offer little justification for this, other than Mr. Parker’s opening monologue that explains how the two of them had nothing to give to the world, their options narrowing down to minimum wage or petty crime, ‘so we stepped off the path’. One can relate. That one shot presents itself when they’re down at the fertility clinic, donating ‘a shot of come’ to make ends meet (apparently that nets you three grand). Parker overhears a telephone conversation that informs them of a young girl who’s carrying a wealthy couple’s baby. The young girl, Robin (Juliette Lewis), is to receive one million dollars for her services. Parker and Longbaugh decide it’s time to stop jerking around (sorry) and kidnap the girl. Juliette, as always, is awesome and nobody does the mentally-unstable-trashy-girl-thing better than her. It’s no different here and she’s a joy to watch.
Of course, nothing is ever easy. Robin’s benefactors appear to be the worst variety of bad guys you can imagine, and they have two particularly well trained bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) watching over their investment. The scene where the first attempt at the kidnapping is made, is markedly different from what you usually see. It’s very civilized, deliberate and strategic. Both parties, kidnappers and bodyguards, are highly trained and leave no margin for error. When it becomes clear that neither party is prepared to give up, they part ways in a very controlled manner (for a short time). The gunfights play out in a similar fashion and are among the most entertaining I’ve ever seen. Parker always makes sure Longbaugh is covered, there’s lots of suppressing fire, the sound effects are a feast for the ears and Del Toro looks awesome sporting his GALIL. There’s a definite similarity to Michael Mann‘s films, except there aren’t as many grey suits. Most of that strategic nature can be traced to the involvement of McQuarrie’s brother, a former navy seal, who was on board as an adviser. The same deliberate element can be found in the film’s dialogue. There’s logic and reason to The Way of the Gun‘s conversations. It’s well written, which makes sense, considering McQuarrie also wrote The Usual Suspects.
Many of the film’s detractors would have you believe it’s some kind of Tarantino rip-off. But, I think it’s safe to say there’s more to crime films with decent dialogue than just Tarantino, and The Way of the Gun definitely does it’s own thing. It’s a fun modern interpretation of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and like the stars in that film, Del Toro and Phillippe have a great dynamic going on screen. Even though these modern day variants have no morals, they’re just as like-able. Philippe is especially fun to watch as he picked this film in an effort to change the direction his career was going (and who can blame him?). Apart from that, the film just looks good and has that un-quantifiable not-quite-nineties, but-not-quite-two-thousands-either thing going on. Perhaps Sarah Silverman’s getting sucker-punched is part of that aesthetic. The Way of the Gun, look it up.