Before Christopher McQuarrie became Tom Cruise’s number one stunt enabler, he was most famous for penning the labyrinthian screenplay for Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects – but acting as connective tissue between Ethan Hunt clinging to the side of a plane and a gang of ne’re-do-wells climing to the truth, lies The Way Of The Gun.
McQuarrie’s directorial debut has kind of disappeared from view these days and yet, despite some noticeable roughness, it’s always been a down and dirty thriller that stands as a cold and brutal antidote to some of the flashier crime epics that followed in the wake of Quentin Tarantino’s 90’s output.
Less a standard thriller and more a blatant neo-western crammed with automatic weapons, surrogate mothers and Sarah Silverman expelling a dizzying amount of staggeringly filthy expletives, The Way Of The Gun may be well overdue for a reload.
Parker and Longbaugh are a couple of highly trained, yet low level thugs, barely rating above petty criminals as they live off the grid, waiting for that big score to come along. Keeping afloat due to countless donations of blood and sperm (not mixed together: thank you Dodgeball), the two heavies finally think they’ve hit pay dirt when they overhear a conversation about a surrogate mother who, once she gives birth, is due a $1,000,000 payday from Hale Chidduck, a known money launderer.
Swooping in with some fiendishly complex tactics, Parker and Longbaugh kidnap uncertain mum to be, Robin, from under the noses of her pychotically dedicated security detail and get away scott free – however, this is only where the complications begin.
Issues with Robin’s baby means that our two anti-hero have to forcably bring in her gynecologist, Dr. Allen Painter, to make sure that their unborn bundle of cash is in good health, but while this is going on, Chidduck has enlisted the services of his crusty, world weary, right-hand man, Joe Sarno in order to try and secure Robin’s release by any means necessary.
However, while the ransom is being negotiated and arraigned, it becomes obvious that Parker and Longbaugh have stumbled into something of a tangled, hornet’s nest and this small group of morally bankrupt people are connected in more intimate ways than just coincidence.
At the end of this twisted journey lies murder, torture, a gruesome c-section and a ridiculous amount of bullets as all involved try to protect and procure the various reasons that’s brought them to the dance. Can Parker and Longbaugh finally lay hands on the money they truly believe the world owes them?
I first saw The Way Of The Gun on the recommendation of another purely off the back of it’s truly confounding opening scene that throws at you, among other things, a white dude with a huge, ginger affro; a string of incredibly homophobic insults exploding out of a cameoing Sarah Silverman and the usage of one of cinema’s most seismic threats coming from the mouth of Ryan Phillippe right before he flattens he nose with a handful of vicious punches. As introductions go, its perversely perfect as Parker and Longbaugh (or should that be “Parker” and “Longbaugh“?) are a couple of ice-blooded lowlifes who, in any other movie, would be dispatched by a gritty hero in a hail of bullets. As we watch them writhe in pain after their epic (and well earned) mass beating has subsided, McQuarrie almost seems to be shrugging at us with an apologetic grin on his face as if to say “Sorry guys, these are our leads. Deal with it.”.
And deal with it I did, because despite of some curious changes in pace – the movie either moves like the wind or stops dead in its tracks with rarely anything inbetween – The Way Of The Gun takes great pleasure in dropping us into a morally murky world where no one is truly innocent.
If Parker and Longbaugh are the “heroes” by default, everyone else is graded in shades of ever darkening grey, so don’t expect to side with anyone as this tangled story meanders on its twisted way toward some sort of resolution. I would suppose the most empathetic character is Juliette Lewis’ Robin as she waddles about the place, heavily pregnant while shit erupts all around her – but even then, we’re dealing with a woman who lost her donor egg, but managed to get pregnant anyway and chosen to not inform the criminal parents in order to still get the money – until her dormant mothering instinct belatedly kicks in complicating matters further. Her complicit gynecologist proves to have a spine that alternates between steel and jelly and even James Caan’s broken-yet-steely bag man can quite easily revert to being an emotionless killer at the flip of a coin. So we find ourselves stuck with Parker and Longbaugh for the most of this journey as they – and us – deal with the steadily, unfurling severity of the situation and at the time, some complained that the fact that all the twists are backed on a series of very subtle reveals (the subject of Robin’s parentage is played so casual it might actually slip by you entirely) that everyone else is related in some way, but I’ve always found the Russian doll aspect of the plot fascinating.
Given virtually no real backstory to play with, Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro approach their blank slates by curiously both seemingly trying to emulate Marlo Brando with Phillippe doing a passable imitation of his distinctive voice while Del Torro adopts his swaggering mannerisms as he enigmatically saints his way through proceedings with an evocative cock of the head.
While the plot sometimes takes it’s time to get to the point, McQuarrie nevertheless gives his actors some awesomely lines that prove to be chewier than a $2 steak. “You know what I’m gonna tell God when I see him?” softly intones Longbaugh at one point, “I’m gonna tell him I was framed.”, while elsewhere, a magnificently craggy Caan gravely points out that “Fifteen million dollars is not money. It’s a motive with a universal adapter on it.”.
However, despite all the meaty, anti-hero stuff and complex character interactions, what really rams the film home is the magnificently complex gunfight that pepper the film and fully secure its neo-western credentials – shit, the final shootout even takes place in a mexican brothel – what’s more Western than that? Played with fierce intelligence and loaded with ghastly incident (Parker’s hurriedly chosen choice of cover leads him to pull a saucer-sized sliver of beer bottle out of his forearm), this attention to cerebral action probably helped no end once the director picked up the gargantuan reigns of the Mission: Impossible franchise.
Flawed, certainly, but I’d take the anti-rightous antics of Parker and Longbaugh over any of the lame Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie copycats that were littering the landscape at the time – but the fact that this dusty rule breaker has remained so interesting to this day suggests that The Way Of The Gun is one worth following.