Thursday, September 23, 2010

Way Of The Gun

(This look familiar to anyone else? Looks Like Tarantino had some sticky fingers.)

The first time I saw The Way Of The Gun I hated it. I wrote it off as just another Tarantino wannabe, a particularly noxious mix of over stylized wannabe Peckinpah ultra violence and pop nihilism. To my surprise the movie gained a huge cult following over the past decade, one of the few in recent times that was completely organic rather then forced. This alone made me want to give the film a second look and when someone brought it up in protest when I mentioned that I thought The Town was the best crime film since Heat, I figured it was perfect timing. I’m always happy to be proven wrong, but still I was cautious, after all The Boondock Saints was a from the ground up cult hit too.

Some of my issues with The Way Of The Gun stand, whatever Studio Exec decided to cast Ryan Phillipe as a hardcore badass needs to be fired. Phillipe never gets past the whole kid playing dress up stage of his character and his overwrought voice over nearly ruins the whole damn movie. It also stars Juliette Lewis who I get along with like Superman does Kryptonite, a shrill braying piece of Kryptonite who keeps inexplicably turning up in movies I otherwise like and making me want to cry.

The film plays fast and loose with its internal logic something that always annoys me. The Less then dynamic duo makes the transition from dopey conmen slinging spare sperm to hardened killers way too quickly. And the dialogue crosses the border into arch at every opportunity. Despite all this there’s no denying this movie is at least trying to be legit. It stands out now from the pale Tarantino imitators, in one very important way, It’s not trying to be ironic; it’s trying to tell a hardcore crime story that Jim Thompson could be proud of.

And a surprising amount of the time it succeeds. The story follows a pair of stupid thugs who kidnap the surrogate mother of a mafia couple. This goes about as poorly as can be expected, and the next thing you know Parker and Longbaugh are south of the border shooting it out for their lives. It’s the kind of concept that you’d half to be a complete moron not to get some friction out of it, and Christopher McQuarrie, though many things is not a complete moron.

Though the film loses focus among too many subplots we don’t care about (So the wife of the guy who has sent the mob bosses is sleeping with zzzz…). But it really shines when it focuses on the cast’s two actual tough guys, Benicio Del Toro and James Caan. Seriously if the whole movie was as good as their scenes I’d be running down the street screaming “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls” passing out free copies of the film to passersby. The film climaxes with a spectacularly choreographed apocalyptic gunfight which is damn near note perfect. While there’s a lot of stuff to nitpick in Way Of The Gun, I do think it’s a genuine shame that he never really got a chance to direct again. He has obvious talent. The film is more then the sum of its parts. If not much more


Chris Regan said...

I have a confession - I didn't really like this film until I listened to Chris McQuarrie's commentary on the DVD. I don't believe that a director should have to explain the reasons behind their decisions in order for a film to work, but in this case that's what happened. It completely turned my opinion of the film around and when I've seen it since then I've loved it.

Elwood Jones said...

I've always had a strange relationship with Lewis and her films, especially as they always have her looking so trashy. Still she makes some good music and has a few interesting things to say.
I was surprised how it shifted from something witty and quotable, to something pretty much run of the mill, with only the prospect of the climatic shoot-out and Phillipe teaching us why, it's never a good idea to jump into piles of bottles.

Sure there's a list to be made of films with surprisingly good shoot out's which along with "Dear Wendy" would also include this film.

J.D. said...

I really like this film if only because McQuarrie works so hard to try push the boundaries of the genre a little bit. I like the whole prologue bit with Sarah Silverman that feels almost like a trailer for another film with these guys.

And actually, this one of the few films with Phillippe that I can actually tolerate him in. He certainly looked skilled enough during the action sequences and I've read that they had consultants on hand for all those scenes and you can tell in the way the guns are held, the way people move.

Not to mention the final showdown was pretty damn impressive. A very underrated film, IMO.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Chris: Huh, I haven't listened to the commentary track. I'll be sure to though. He's always seemed like a sharp guy.

@ Elwood: The Pile O' Bottles Moment makes this film.

@ JD: I have always liked the opening as it's basically the film in microcosm.

Neil Fulwood said...

I have many of the same problems with 'Way of the Gun': I don't buy Ryan Philippe in the role; the almost soap opera-ish subplot with the rich guy's wife is just plain tedious; the dialogue is often risible.

But ... del Toro and James Caan hit it out of the park; Lewis, I must admit, is more tolerable in this than in other roles (maybe because the film exploits her one-note shrillness to merciless effect); and that climactic shoot-out is one of the best - properly edited, spatially aware and nastily realistic, particularly the diving for cover/broken bottles moment.

I probably need to watch it a couple more times, but at the moment it's a film I have some admiration for despite its flaws rather than one I like or outright love.

Bryce Wilson said...

That final shoot out goes a long long way.