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With: Ryan Phillippe, Juliette Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, Geoffrey Lewis, Dylan Kussman, Scott Wilson, Kristin Lehman, James Caan, Henry Griffin, Sarah Silverman
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore, language and some sexuality
Running Time: 119
Date: 09/08/2000

The Way of the Gun (2000)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Way and No Way

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Way of the Gun is one of those movies that you admire more than you like. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the Academy Award-winning writer of The Usual Suspects (1995), it's a tour-de-force of cinematic invention. But at the same time, it's just about the coldest, most pointless crime movie I've ever seen.

Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro star in The Way of the Gun as a pair of hoodlums. We first meet them getting beat up in a parking lot for leaning on someone's car. While donating sperm for cash, they cook up a plan to kidnap a pregnant girl (Juliette Lewis) who is a surrogate mother for a wealthy mob boss, certain that they will be well paid for her return. James Caan co-stars as a "bag-man" who is sent ahead with a preliminary deal for the kidnappers, and Taye Diggs appears as a bodyguard who is secretly having an affair with the boss' girlfriend.

The movie feels a lot like one of those Monte Hellman or Sam Peckinpah movies like Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) or Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) where nobody talks much and everything has a lot of existential meaning. The difference is that in The Way of the Gun I couldn't detect any real meaning about anything. Just about everyone gets shot and dies and no one really seems to be searching or longing for anything except money and power. Nothing existential about that.

On the other hand, individual scenes crackle with energy and brains. When Caan first arrives to make a deal with the kidnappers, he and Del Toro sit and have a cup of coffee and talk about life before they get back to business. It's a priceless scene and it would perk up just about any other movie. The final showdown takes place in a sleazy Mexican hotel brimming with character and texture. And a running joke has everyone unable to get signals on their cell phones.

Plot details are unraveled slowly and deliberately, just like in The Usual Suspects. But this time the so-called surprises feel familiar and rote. Little is actually spoken in the film, as if McQuarrie intended the majesty of his sets and actors to carry the film. If that's the case, he would have done better than to cast pretty-boy Phillippe, whose plastic face inspires little wonder. In the end, I almost felt as if McQuarrie suddenly found himself with an Oscar and felt obligated to deliver something -- anything -- as a follow-up before too much time went by.

Still, I have to applaud McQuarrie for making a movie that doesn't explain everything and give everything away, like most movies seem to. He's clearly inviting us to join in and think about what's happening. It's the kind of movie that will spawn lots of fan clubs on the internet, discussing the meaning of everything. It's just that there's nothing really here to discuss.

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