Friday September 8, 2000
Since Quentin Tarantino has been making himself scarce--and Sergio Leone is dead, Howard Hawks is dead and John Woo is on Cruise control--Christopher McQuarrie has decided to fill the enormous void with "The Way of the Gun," an implement of destruction loaded with more borrowed film riffs than could be compiled by 47 clones of Robert Rodriguez.
Like a director who's budgeted a helicopter and can't bear not to use it, McQuarrie--the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Usual Suspects"--can't help larding his directorial debut with trimmings from far superior crime dramas, old and new ("Heat," "Hard-Boiled" and "The Big Sleep," to name a few). He may harbor an affection for the genre, but McQuarrie keeps tripping over the cluttered video library of his mind.
Either that, or he can't tell the difference between prime cut and baloney. It's possible. There's a scene at the beginning of this eventually tiresome salute to mayhem in which Mr. Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Mr. Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro), down-on-their-luck gunmen, have just finished semantically torturing the clerk at a sperm bank and are about to make their deposit. Then they overhear a conversation about a fabulously wealthy Southwestern couple and the surrogate mother of their child-to-be. They don't say a word, but their silent, mutual, instinctual plotting is a far more eloquent illustration of their nefarious personalities than all of Parker's windy philosophy of crime (delivered in a voice borrowed from Dan Hedaya), to which we've already been subjected quite enough, thanks so much. It's better than the shootouts too.
What Parker and Longbaugh don't know is that Ms. Surrogate, Robin (Juliette Lewis), is carrying the baby for Hale Chidduck (Scott Wilson), a leg-breaking, money-laundering "bagman" of the old school who can't produce big-time ransom money without raising a lot of federal suspicions. So Chidduck calls in his longtime associate and hired gun Sarno (James Caan) to get him out of the mess that his regular security men, Jeffers and Obecks (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt), have managed not to avoid. Bad blood is running everywhere.
So is regular blood. And McQuarrie's violence, despite its occasionally errant choreography, provides a relief from the faux-Faulknerian dialogue and the convoluted plot, both of which are more than inspired by the byzantine "Big Sleep." Keeping track of who is connected to whom becomes as exasperating as the deliberately oblique bits of dialogue that are intended to tantalize but, ultimately, merely irritate.
By the way, "bagman," a word the movie throws around promiscuously, is supposed to denote a thug who collects money (hence the bag), not just a wise guy with a gun. You'd think McQuarrie, with all his encyclopedic knowledge of crime and drama, would have known that. But then, he subjects us not once but three times to the impaired vision of Lewis stumbling bowlegged around the movie with her prosthetic womb halfway to the floor. Anyone who'd do that doesn't have much sense. Or any mercy at all.
The Way of the Gun, 2000. R, for strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality. An Aqaba production, released by Artisan Entertainment. Director Christopher McQuarrie. Producer Kenneth Kokin. Executive producer Russ Markowitz. Screenplay by McQuarrie. Cinematographer Dick Pope. Editor Stephen Semel. Costume designer Genevieve Tyrrell, Heather Neely McQuarrie. Music Joe Kraemer. Production designer Maia Javan. Art director Thomas Meyer. Set decorator Les Boothe. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes. Ryan Phillippe as Parker. Benicio Del Toro as Longbaugh. Juliette Lewis as Robin. Taye Diggs as Jeffers.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times