The Way of the Gun

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The first scene in “The Way of the Gun” has our two “heroes,” Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro), outside a nightclub, nonchalantly sitting on a guy’s car and setting the alarm off. When the guy, accompanied by his foul-mouthed girlfriend, yells at them to get off the car, a fight ensues. But Parker and Longbaugh go first for the one who provoked them the most, used the most profanity, and was just generally most deserving of a beating: the girlfriend.

While I certainly don’t advocate violence toward women and think very little of a man who would hit one, this scene is outrageously funny, and indicative of the black-as-night humor and violence that will pervade the film.

It also warns us what our main characters are like: lawless, despicable petty thugs and occasional murderers who are not confined by such notions as “justice.” That’s one of the film’s themes, in fact, that there’s often no such thing as justice. Despite this harsh reality, we usually expect movies to show the bad guys being punished and the good guys winning. But as Parker says in a voice-over, “We didn’t come for absolution. We didn’t ask to be redeemed.”

And besides, it’s hard to punish the “bad guys” when everyone in the world has an ulterior motive.

While trying to make money as sperm donors (“Have you ever killed anyone?” and “Would you have sex with a dead person?” are two questions Longbaugh thinks should be asked), the two overhear an interesting fact: Rich businessman Hale Chidduck (Scott Wilson) is paying a girl named Robin (Juliette Lewis) a large sum of money in order to be surrogate mother to his child. Chidduck’s trophy wife Francesca (Kristin Lehman) is perfectly capable of having one herself, but the socialite can’t be bothered with such things.

Parker and Longbaugh (yeah, those were the real names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, if that gives you any indication where this is going to wind up) hatch a plan. They’ll kidnap the surrogate mother and hold her and her as-yet unborn baby for ransom. They get her away from her mildly competent bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) in a hail of gunfire (one of several hails of gunfire in the movie) and head off toward Mexico.

It turns out to be an even better idea than they realized, as most of Chidduck’s money is of the money-laundering variety, which means he can’t involve the police in the negotiations.

Robin’s doctor, Allen Painter (Dylan Kussman) is brought in to help deliver the baby, if necessary, but he’s got secret reasons for being so interested. So does Chidduck’s long-time bagman Sarno (James Caan); so do the bodyguards; heck, even Sarno’s assistant Abner (Geoffrey Lewis) has secrets.

Phillippe and Del Toro are appropriately only sort of likable as the main characters, both acting their parts well, particularly Phillippe, with his swallowed, Stanley Kowalski-style delivery.

McQuarrie’s directing is stylish but not stylized. That is, you can tell a good director was involved — extended shots where the camera just sits there while people attempt suicide, talk, or kill each other — but he doesn’t draw attention to himself or his craft.

The plot is as delightfully twisted as the humor, but that “look how many plot twists I can come up with” method is occasionally to the film’s detriment. Sometimes secrets are overheard by parties who shouldn’t hear them — and then nothing ever comes of it. Most of the loose ends are wrapped up, though, usually by way of a bullet, and while it’s hard to feel anything resembling upliftment or happiness at the film, it’s undeniably an adrenaline-pumped punch-in-the-face of a movie.

A- (; R, abundant harsh profanity, abundant shootings and blood and other violence, a torture scene, very brief partial nudity.)

In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.