119 mins. Color.
DVD released by Artisan Enterainment, 2000.
Whatever you do, don't watch the trailer for Christopher MacQuarrie's The Way of the Gun until at least a few months after you've watched the film. In a classic case of marketing gone awry, the trailer throws together a handful of the film's more memorable images, a dozen or so speed cuts of random frames, and ultimately pisses on the grave it just dug for the film by subjecting everyone to a Limp Bizkit song. It's a shameful attempt to sell the film as a fast-paced action flick when MacQuarrie was doing nothing of the sort. Instead, the Usual Suspects writer was crafting a carefully articulate crime film that is as methodical and tactical as the handful of gunfights it does have.
The story goes that after the success of Usual Suspects and the Oscar he got for the screenplay, MacQuarrie was dying to direct his first feature. After years of refusing to do another crime movie out of fear of being typecast, a conversation with Benicio del Toro one afternoon convinced him that a crime movie was the only route to the creative control that MacQuarrie wanted for his debut. Not without a little spite he decided he didn't want to make “a film about nice, likeable people who just happen to commit crime.” Nearly every character with a speaking role is in someway committing a crime, and not just any crimes, but really unsavory ones.
The central element in the plot is the scheme of protagonists Parker (Ryan Phillipe) and Longbaugh (Benicio), drifter criminals who happen upon their mark by eavesdropping on a phone call while donating sperm, to kidnap and ransom a pregnant woman who is acting as a surrogate mother for a millionaire couple who found the idea of actually carrying the child to be too bothersome. Of course, things go downhill from there. When the rugged, battle-worn Joe Sarno (James Caan outdoing himself in terms of badassery) shows up and promises a fellow henchman “a day of reckoning that you will not live long enough to never forget”, you know that violent times are ahead.
I think that part of the reason I love this film so much is that it was the first film I saw as a teenager that didn't just flat out tell me everything that I needed to know. MacQuarrie's characters speak in subtle gestures and facial expressions as often as they do in highly quotable dialog. There are relationships that are never named directly. Conversations are rarely straight forward; questions are rarely answered with anything but another question. Everyone is always holding back something. Throw in some brilliantly choreographed gun fights, crude humor, and the 10th grade version of me is hooked. But the thing with this film is that it didn't just satisfy the 10th grade version of me, it pushed him in a more sophisticated direction than the Limp Bizkit themed action movie the trailer so tastelessly depicts. It taught him how to approach all those “art films” that had seemed so opaque before. I remember the conversations that John and I would have after watching the film together for the 3rd time, always picking up something new. And that's what great films do.
- Parker and Lonbaugh, the names of Ryan Phillipe's and Benicio del Toro's characters, are the real last names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
- MacQuarrie hired his brother, a Navy SEAL, to plot out and choreograph the film's gunfights. The two planned every shot with plastic “cowboys and indians” figures. This resulted in a more tactical, realistic approach, including the film's signature slow car chase.
- The name of the hotel that the kidnappers hole up in is Nacio Madre, which translates to “Birth Mother”.
Set yourself up:
- Get some food, particularly sandwiches, from a gas station. Remember, you're a drifter living off sperm donor money. Possibly steal a car to drive to the gas station and back.
- Corona, Tecate, Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, etc...
- Desensitize yourself to intense swearing by having a friend shout vile insults at you for 10-20 minutes before you start the film. I promise this will help you get passed the opening scene of the movie.
Ryan Nichols is a writer / filmmaker in Minneapolis, MN. He is a regular contributor to http://www.crocoduck.com/