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THE WAY OF THE GUN

Review by Andrew Manning (9/00)

Release: 2000, Artisan
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, James Caan, Sarah Silverman
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language, sexuality, nudity
Genre: Action/Crime
Running Time: 118 minutes




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SUMMARY

Two down on their luck men (Phillippe and Del Toro) kidnap a surrogate mother (Lewis) who is pregnant with a rich man's baby and hold her for ransom. Things get complicated when they clash with the woman's body guards (Diggs and Katt) and an old man (Caan) working for the rich guy.

THE SUDDEN RUNDOWN

Ultra-violent, but ultimately pointless, The Way of the Gun fails to live up to its potential, weaves a boring tale, and is unintentionally comical and sloppy.

WHAT'S GOOD

The two main stars, Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro, are the sort of bad guys you root for. Both turn in good performances as young men who life has thrown along the roadside--and without the potential for greatness, they see the kidnapping as their only means to an end. This is where The Way of the Gun could have been a great movie: if it examined the miserable lives of these two individuals and explained how and why society failed them. As it stands though, Phillippe narrates a few reflective statements at the beginning and end of the story, but that is all we have of their personal situations.

Narration by a character from within the story from an omnipotent perspective usually works well in films with purpose. It worked very well for both American Beauty and the winner of our 1999 Editor's Choice Award, Fight Club. In fact, Phillippe's thesis is a wonderful opening that should set the tone of the entire movie: "For the record, I will be known as Mr. Parker, and my associate will be Mr. Longbaugh...When it became clear to us that the world had nothing to offer, we got off the path, and went looking for the fortune we knew was looking for us." But instead of more of this self-determination, the movie quickly devolves into a botched crime job and non-stop crossfire.

A short appearance by comedianne Sarah Silverman (former Saturday Night Live cast member) in the beginning of the story is one of the movie's highlights. Credited as "Raving Bitch," she is the first person we see stir up trouble with Phillippe and Del Toro. When she and her boyfriend find Phillippe and Del Toro sitting on the hood of their car, she goes off on an extremely foul-mouthed rant about how they are going to get beat up if they don't move. She's always been cool, and the scene is hilarious. I wish I could reprint here, but it's a little too vulgar.

To raise money, Phillippe and Del Toro go to work as donors in a sperm bank, where they have a humorous philosophical debate with the clinic's staff.

These few scenes at the beginning of the movie give us the false impression that we're in for a great film. Unfortunately, most of the thought behind the dialogue goes up in smoke once the kidnapping of Juliette Lewis takes place. From there, it's all downhill. It's a shame, because you could tell that The Way of the Gun had a lot of potential. It could have been an excellent dark comedy that focused on the ugliness of reality. But as it turns out, all we have here is another crime thriller that can, at best, be filed under "uninteresting."


WHAT'S BAD

Eventually, the film becomes an insane shoot 'em up that is unintentionally humorous: Phillippe and Del Toro unload enough ammunition in a single fight to make The Matrix look passive. And the movie is packed with more old criminals than The Crew. Besides James Caan, who goes through the whole movie wearing a shirt that's about five sizes too small, the film boasts a small army of over-the-hillers hobbling around trying to shoot the younger set. One old man, who seems to want to commit suicide from the beginning, becomes the centerpiece of a joke when he finally dies in his car. What's the point of this? Why wasn't his story ever explained? Because without that explanation, his death is funny, not tragic. Then there's another old guy who gets shot square in the crotch--which made me laugh out loud.

For once, I'd like to see a movie with Juliette Lewis in which she doesn't play a retard or white trash. Maybe if she started speaking a little faster, she could break type and not play only slow-witted characters with a drawl.

Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt are both boring as hell as Lewis' bodyguards. They come across as robotic sentinels, even in scenes when they should have some personality--for example, in a scene where we discover Diggs is having an affair with the young wife of his boss (yet another plotline in this movie that is touched upon for a minute, then quickly ignored). In fact, they're so uninteresting, that their best scenes come when they are killed: Katt when Phillippe tortures him to death by stretching, Diggs when he is shot in the throat.


Rating: 3.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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