“$15 million is not money. Money is what you take to the grocery store. Money is what you get out of an ATM. $15 million is not money. It’s a motive waiting for someone to take it.” It’s this kind of dialogue that made Quentin Tarantino famous. Well, that and a lot of guns. However, Tarantino did not write this piece of dialogue. It’s a line from the new film “The Way of the Gun,” written by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for writing “The Usual Suspects.” This is also McQuarrie’s directorial debut. “The Way of the Gun” is the kind of film that flooded the film world after “Pulp Fiction.” People act tough, they yell and many of them get shot. However, there are a few differences between this and the many “Pulp Fiction” knockoffs from the mid-90s. Mainly, this one works.
Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) and Parker (Ryan Phillippe) are two loners who have decided life has nothing more to offer. At least, this is the excuse they give for being criminals. The movie does not give them much backstory, nor does it need to. We see two bad men who talk and shoot well. They are our heroes, so the audience better learn to like them - and it’s hard not to do just that. After overhearing that a young girl is having a couple’s baby and getting paid $1 million for it, they decided to find and kidnap this girl, ransom her off and make easy money. Of course, in any film like this, the plan never goes well, the money is never easy and blood needs to run from the screen. All of this happens, but not before we get two hitmen, a pregnant girl, a shady doctor, his father and a bagman veteran. All make the two criminals’ lives much, much harder.
“The Way of the Gun” is not nearly as polished as “The Usual Suspects,” nor is it as snap-crackle-pop as “Reservoir Dogs.” However, what sets this film apart from the rest is that it is much less a piece of “Pulp Fiction,” than it is a much bloodier “Touch of Evil.” McQuarrie has watched a lot of 40s film noir and it shows. Not only is his directing paced like an old mystery, but also his use of narration, lovable but tough criminals, and even Mexico as the ultimate heaven is in effect. The film reminds the viewer of not only the 40s noir, but also the classic western “The Wild Bunch.” The final shootout is a pure homage with an “it’s on” type of attitude.
The other factor that helps move this film is the surprisingly good acting from the cast. Phillippe is not many people’s choices to play a career criminal. However, he looks scruffy, is all bulked up and can smoke with the best of them. He pulls off his role with a smooth attitude that he displays from the films frantic and wonderful opening. Del Toro should only act in McQuarrie’s films after this and “The Usual Suspects.” In both films, he has shown a comedic element and here, he also shows a slow burn to his character that really brings him to life. After over-acting in the underrated “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, its nice to see him do a less manic role.
Taye Diggs also improves in this movie, as he is the one hitman who truly seems menacing. After seeing the other new release involving hitmen, “Nurse Betty”, it’s interesting to watch another actor take on a hitman with a level of professionalism. However, Diggs is a bit colder when it comes to his marks.
James Caan is also wonderful as an older bagman who is, as he says, “a survivor.” The same could be said of Caan and his film career, and in “The Way of the Gun”, he is given a nice contrast to his most famous character, Sonny from “The Godfather.”
One of the other unique aspects of this movie is the sound. Many films have used the magic of sound to carry their story, but “The Way of the Gun” may contain the loudest gunfire ever used. It cracks, always being a high-pitched snap through the air. Whenever a character opens fire, the audience braces for the shots, as if they were coming out of the screen. Not since “Saving Private Ryan” has gunfire sound played such a huge role in a film.
“The Way of the Gun” is not a landmark film. It’s not groundbreaking cinema and it will have its detractors. Yet, for those of us who miss an old-fashioned noir, and the time when film showed showdowns between bad guys and worse guys, it’s a welcome return. McQuarrie knows how to make writing come alive off the page and has a great sense of framing in his direction. “The Way of the Gun” is the kind of film that could become a cult movie such as “Reservoir Dogs.” It’s just attitude.