Thursday, March 2, 2017

In short: The Way of the Gun (2000)

Two intellectually stunted small time criminals (Benicio del Toro and Ryan Phillippe) accidentally overhear a telephone call that suggests to them – not beholden to The Way of the Brain(s) – a brilliant plan: kidnap the surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) of some rich guy’s (whose name they don’t even know nor attempt to find out) baby during the latest stage of her pregnancy and blackmail said rich guy into paying them a fortune. Turns out things go wrong in any which way they can, for the mysterious rich guy (Scott Wilson) is indeed highly involved in organized crime, so our idiot protagonists soon have problems with the surrogate mother’s surviving bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) and rich guy’s chief bagman Joe “The director named me after the master of psychological softcore movies for no discernible reason” Sarno (James Caan).

And to drag a simple plot out into a two hour movie, every single damn character involved (plus a few I haven’t even mentioned) has his or her own private agenda, too, leading to the usual twists and turns.

Which to me is the core problem of Christopher McQuarrie’s The Way of the Gun: the way the film is set up, every single character on screen needs to function as a plot device, too, so most of them don’t act like people grasping for the things they want but rather like walking talking clichés who do what they do to complicate the plot. In theory, most of the characters do have motivations for what they do, but for some reason (might be the titular way of the gun, or a self-destructive attempt at making every twist a surprise, even though there’s little surprising for anyone vaguely savvy concerning films about guys with guns), McQuarrie decides to present most of them as ciphers and clichés, never actually letting them express any of the emotions or thoughts that are supposedly driving them. This leads to a film full of characters about whose bloody deaths one can’t bring oneself to care even the tiniest bit, not because they are very bad people (which they surely are), but because nobody would ever confuse these two-dimensional beings with people at all.

Adding insult to injury, the film actually features a cast of fine actors (well, and Ryan Phillippe, but what can you do?). Alas, it is a cast of fine actors who aren’t allowed to do more than just go through the motions in service of the over-plotted abomination of a script they’re trapped in.

Visually, McQuarrie’s film is rather on the beautiful side, slick and bloody and pretty and technically accomplished – and just as empty and meaningless as its script. There’s just nothing there not in a nihilistic sense, mind you, but following the Way of the Undernourished Script.

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