In case you’re utterly dense and stupid (and some of my hate mail indicates that if you’re reading this, you just might be), know that with a title like The Way of the Gun you are getting yourself into a very, very violent film. I do not mean a couple of cap guns and a blood pack under someone’s shirt. I mean more shots fired per foot of film this side of a Rambo movie. Bring your earplugs.
This is not to say that violence can’t be stylish or clever. Movies like Pulp Fiction have proven that a gun can be poetry. Or it can just be a gun. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (best known for writing The Usual Suspects; Gun is his directorial debut) has set out to make a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the millennium. From its all-bad-guys cast (except for the girl) to the arch, black comedy to a south of the border shootout, the homage is pretty sincere. Too bad it didn’t quite work out.
This crime thriller weaves the story of two thugs (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) looking to make their big score. Opportunity arises in the waiting room of a sperm bank, when they learn of a very pregnant surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) who is being paid big money to carry the child of a wealthy couple. A kidnapping/ransom plot is hatched, and complications ensue. As it turns out, the man can pay such a rate for his new son because he’s dirty, and he sends the goons out en masse in order to recover his property — an unborn baby boy.
Subplots and side roads abound, as the kidnappers find themselves a bit out of their depth, resulting in a chase across Mexico, filled with double-crosses and trickery galore. Notable among the players is James Caan as the ‘bagman’ on the case — the guy sent in to try and trick the kidnappers into an even worse situation by offering solace. Caan’s aging gangster is intentionally hilarious, sporting a Members Only jacket and followed by a crew of aging henchmen that look straight out of Palm Beach.
The drama plays out at a suspiciously familiar-looking Mexican brothel, with Lewis giving birth (her doctor — I’m positive — played the jerky redheaded kid from Dead Poets Society) amid a hailstorm of gunfire. When it’s over, it’s amazing the place is left standing. Suffice it to say that few members of the cast are.
Ultimately, The Way of the Gun is flecked with many laughs despite its gruesome storyline. As a cinematic experience, it’s also competently made, but something just doesn’t sit right, and the picture never reaches the echelon of the Reservoir Dogs of the violence-in-film world. This is largely because though Gun is clever, it’s considerably over-plotted and, as a direct result, interminably slow as detail after detail is explained at length.
But perhaps its biggest failing is that Gun gives us absolutely no one to root for. And it takes some doing to make a pregnant woman unsympathetic.
His way or the highway.