In 1995, Christopher McQuarrie stunned audiences with the powerful The Usual Suspects. So now, five years later, he has returned with The Way of the Gun. However, there are several things that plague this new movie that have nothing to do with the movie itself. First, The Usual Suspects was gripping and surprising, obviously showing McQuarrie at the top of his game. If that was his peak, there's only one way to go from there. Second, it isn't McQuarrie's name that people think of when they recall The Usual Suspects; in fact, they probably haven't heard of him. So you have a story that can't possibly be as good as The Usual Suspects, a movie that everyone has overly high expectations for, and names that can't draw big box office. But there's another reason why The Way of the Gun will never be referred to the way The Usual Suspects is.
The Way of the Gun isn't very good. It has some clever dialogue, a good cast, and some bloody gunfights, but there's nothing to tie them all together.
The movie introduces us to the two "main" characters, played by Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe (he started out in teen trips like I Know What You Did Last Summer, but since then has continued to draw away from the teen base and go for more adult roles, and this one is definitely an adult role), in the very first scene, and it almost instantly looks like something from Fight Club. So is this movie going to be some sophisticated and clever film like Fight Club? People hope not, because they want to see a crime thriller with lots of twists and turns. In this first scene, The Way of the Gun also shows us how McQuarrie likes his comedy: dark. He draws laughs from his violence in almost a harmless manner, as the guys quickly beat up a couple of sharp-talking women. Later, it is funny when Phillipe lands on a bunch of broken beer bottles and is forced to pull a shard of glass out of his arm.
As the movie progresses, several scenes play out that seem to be working towards some surprise ending, and throughout the film, more and more character relationships are introduced. Of course, all of the characters want the $15 million that arises, and so you think the character alliances will diminish at the end as everyone turns against each other. But then McQuarrie pulls off something really surprising: nothing happens. His surprise ending is that there is no surprise ending, and you are left with a bloody battlefield following scene after scene where you are watching so intently for some little foreshadowing to the climax. The conclusion is far less than adequate, and that makes the rest of the movie inadequate as well. It is as if McQuarrie tried to tease us by making his fairly simple story look like a plot twister.
Not all is at a loss, though. Phillippe and Del Toro do a good job, if something of a muted one. McQuarrie's direction relies heavily on quiet scenes, so all the actors are forced to do a somewhat more physical acting job. Juliette Lewis also stars as the pregnant woman caught in the crossfire, although her role seems a little simple in the long run.
The movie also has some of the loudest gunfights ever, drawing you right into the middle. At one point I even turned to look where a sound was coming from, and I quickly turned back, embarrassed, realizing that it was just the surround sound, a beginning of a gunfight. While just about everyone is as bad of a shot as the stormtroopers in Star Wars, the gunfights are pretty intense at times, especially the one at the end.
Unfortunately, these gunfights seem to have only one purpose; to show McQuarrie's love for gore. Blood splatters everywhere and the director/screenwriter doesn't hold back in the least to show us the wounds. If he had just focused a little more on the story, everything might have turned out fine.
The Way of the Gun is a disappointing second attempt from the man he revolutionized twist endings.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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