The Way of the Gun (18)
SOME filmmakers are just so precise, so detailed in their work, that you know you’re into something special as soon as the credits roll.
Christopher McQuarrie, creator of The Usual Suspects and here making his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun, is such a filmmaker – a man steeped in the movies of the past to the extent that he makes motion pictures the way they were made by the great artists of the past.
So it’s no surprise to see elements of Sam Peckinpah, John Huston, Terrence Malick and Don Siegel in The Way of the Gun, a blend of contemporary western and film noir in which the protagonists are all equally immoral and the action is based around cold, brutal, unforgiving violence.
Parker and Longbaugh (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) are cold-blooded career criminals and drifters who hit on the perfect scam. While selling their seed to a sperm bank they overhear a chance conversation about a surrogate mother carrying a million-dollar baby for a rich couple.
They immediately drive to the maternity clinic, intercept the pregnant woman (Juliette Lewis) and, after a brief but bloody gun battle with the sharp-suited, ‘gangster chic’ goons hired as her bodyguards, make off with their live booty.
There follows a series of increasingly violent encounters with the bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) and a run-in with ageing mercenary Joe Sarno (James Caan) as Parker and Longbaugh slowly come to realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
With its echoes of great Seventies films such as Charley Varrick, The Getaway, Badlands and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Way of the Gun pays tribute to the era of cinema which spawned it.
Adopting a deliberate retrospective feel, McQuarrie blazes a trail through the American west and into the Mexican borderlands, speeding, shooting and philosophising all the way.
This is on a par with Tarantino, but brighter and less hip, emphasising the unpleasantness of the people, their deeds and the world they exist within.
McQuarrie’s villains and anti-heroes – there are no good guys in The Way of the Gun – follow their own peculiar, bloody and nihilistic code. They owe allegiance to no-one except themselves, and will do whatever it takes to fulfill their objectives. If that means innocent people die, then so be it.
The main thrust of the story is played out in varying shades of grey. All the characters are scumbags, from Parker and Longbaugh to the millionaire money launderer and his bimbo wife who pursue them from the comfort of their palatial home in the hills. Everyone is driven by a lust for hard cash.
The script offers each and every character opportunities for twists, turns and double-dealing. While most go the way of Del Toro and Phillippe – both are riveting – it is the weather-beaten Caan who shines as the quiet, menacing, see-all gangster.
“The only thing you can be sure of about a broken-down old man is that he’s a survivor,” says Caan at one point, delivering the line in a malevolent whisper. He’s the scariest thing in a mad, bad world.
This brutal, cold, reptilian tale builds to a blistering, sustained final showdown in a Mexican bordelo which, in its carnage, is reminisecent of the final apocalyptic gunfight in Peckinpah’s seminal western The Wild Bunch.
It displays some awesome gunplay which, combined with the film’s detachment and gritty, sand-blasted milieu, presents movie violence as it should be – raw, unvarnished, deeply unpleasant and orgasmic in its intensity.
An explosive powder keg of a film, and one which will undoubtedly, and rapidly, acquire a cult reputation.