The Way Of The Gun (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner17/11/2000

Usual Suspects writer McQuarrie turns writer-director for this twisted crime thriller that’s part Peckinpah and part Coen Brothers, with all the gunplay from Heat thrown in.

Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro play small-time crooks Parker and Longbaugh (after the real-life names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). When we first meet them, in the film’s highly unusual opening scene, they’re getting beaten up outside a nightclub. For fun!

Things move swiftly, though – while making donations at a sperm bank, they overhear a conversation that leads them to kidnap heavily-pregnant Robin (Juliette Lewis). However, unbeknownst to them, Lewis is acting as a surrogate mother for a gangster, and soon they’re being pursued by a pair of over-zealous henchmen (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) and James Caan’s veteran ‘bagman’, who just may have a personal stake in the whole affair.

This is an unusual film, in that it never quite goes where you think it’s going. Initially, this is refreshing – for example, it’s a relief to see Diggs and Katt coldly going about their business, rather than exchanging hip, knowing ‘Tarantino-esque’ wisecracks. The characters are suitably enigmatic, too – we never really find out much about either Parker or Longbaugh.

This has already been called an ‘existentialist western’, and with lines like "I think a plan is just a list of things that don’t happen", coupled with an extremely dark and pessimistic atmosphere and some off-beat characters (notably Geoffrey Lewis as Caan’s suicidal henchman), it’s not hard to see why. It has to be said, too, that the film features the finest (and loudest) onscreen shoot-outs since Heat.

In other words, there is a lot to like here. Del Toro is exceptionally cool, and Phillippe just manages to land the right side of ‘pretty-boy actor’ to convince (though the beard isn’t fooling anyone). Both Geoffrey Lewis and Juliette Lewis (father and daughter in real-life) are superb too, though Caan pretty much sleep-walks through his role and isn’t given a huge amount to do.

That’s not to say the film is flawless, however: the script is uneven and it sags considerably in the middle – it could have done with some judicious editing. Also, it doesn’t quite hold together, in that you’re never quite sure who to root for, though this may be one of McQuarrie’s deliberate tricks.

In short, then, those expecting Usual Suspects style trickery from the script will be disappointed, but this is a darkly stylish and unusual crime thriller that manages to subtly reference other films rather than go for out-and-out pastiche, and in doing so, comes up with something original and different. Not as good as its recent spate of rave reviews would have you believe, but worth seeing nonetheless.

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Content updated: 12/12/2017 23:43

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