The Way of the Gun – 2000
Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
There is a natural order, the way things are meant to be. An order that says the good guys always win. That you die when it’s your time, or you have it coming. That the ending is always happy, if only for someone else. Now at some point it became clear to us that our path had been chosen and we had nothing to offer the world. Our options narrowed down to petty crime or minimum wage. So, we stepped off the path, and went looking for the fortune that we knew was looking for us. Once off the path you do what you can to eat, to keep moving. You don’t blow your ghost of a chance with nickel and dime. No possessions. No comforts. Need is the ultimate monkey. A pint of your blood can fetch you fifty bucks. A shot of cum, three grand. If you keep your life simple, you can literally self-sustain.
It is with these opening words that Chris McQuarrie is able to establish right off the bat who his characters are and what they represent. Parker (Ryan Philippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) are searching for their big score, their one chance to make it, and they will do whatever it takes to get it. While donating sperm one day they find out that a woman named Robin (Juliette Lewis) is acting as a surrogate mother for a wealthy man and his trophy wife and that she is so coveted that the man has her under armed guard at all times. Parker and Longbaugh figure that they can just kidnap her and get a fifteen million dollar ransom. They are able to complete the kidnapping, but soon find out that not only are the guards on their tail, but also Joe Sarno (James Caan), an “associate” of the baby’s father.
The best parts of the movie are the meticulously choreographed gun battles. There are probably the most realistic gunfights you will see in an action movie, with people diving for cover and actually reloading when necessary. Chris McQuarrie actually brought in his brother, who is a Navy SEAL, to show the actors how to properly use guns and act in a gunfight. Unfortunately these gunfights are separated by one of the most interminable second acts in history. There is a 45-minute period in the middle of the film where literally nothing happens. All the characters do is sit around and discuss what has happened and what they are going to do. Some very cool lines are spouted off in this period, but not enough to sustain the complete lack of any action. This grinds the film to a halt and almost ruins it.
The thing that kills me about this movie is the all of the wasted potential. After McQuarrie made The Usual Suspects (one of my all time favorites) everyone was begging him to make another crime film, but he didn’t want to make another one. He was personally tired of the genre and this film was his attempt to deconstruct it. He was sick of the idea of the “noble criminal” who the audience could root for. Parker and Longbaugh are actually the real names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the original “good” criminals. So his driving theme was to make all the characters as unlikable as possible and I don’t think he is even able to succeed at this. Parker and Longbaugh treat Robin too well for them to be evil, especially at the end of the film, and you know that there is no way Joe Sarno will ever hurt her. This, combined with the fact that P and L are played by two very likeable actors, the audience can’t help but identify with them. The other great crime is the original opening of the film that was never made. McQuarrie intended for Parker and Longbaugh’s background info to be told in a trailer that would run before the opening credits. It was a delicious send-up of all other action trailers, with pounding beats, tricky camera moves, and even a cameo by Christopher Walken. You can see the storyboards for this on the DVD. If McQuarrie was able to fully realize his concept of total bastards engaged in killer gunfights the movie could have been so much better.
The acting in the movie is superb, especially the repor between Benecio Del Toro and Ryan Philippe. They are able to give their characters loads of backstory just through the looks they exchange and the way they act toward each other. Del Toro is very cool and Ryan Phillippe actually manages to come off as a bit of a badass. Nicky Katt and Taye Diggs are also very good as the two bodyguards. They are the only two characters who come off as being fully bad men.
While Martian Bob’s analysis comparing this to a samurai movie is really cool, McQuarrie says that the film is actually a metaphor for trying to make a movie. The noble writer-director (Robin) tries to create and deliver his dream film (the baby) all while being it’s kidnapped and assaulted by evil heartless movie executives (everyone else).
Highs: Great gunfights, excellent acting (especially Benecio’s eyes), DVD has hilarious and insightful commentary
Lows: The second act, wasted potential.
Seeing the movie a bunch of times
Listening to the commentary track on the DVD