The title here is not a misnomer. This is one bloody shoot-’em-up, a cross between a vengeance western and a film noir. Yet the center of this testosterone fest turns out to be a woman, and not the usual femme fatale.
She’s the very pregnant Robin (Juliette Lewis), a surrogate mother for a well-connected mobster (Scott Wilson) who’s kidnapped by two low-rent thugs, the feral but oddly compassionate Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and the fatalistic sage Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro), who smell money but don’t realize what they’re getting into. They’re not the only ones.
In his directorial debut, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has created a world populated by double-dealing backstabbers, each driven by a self-interest that’s in direct contrast to the job they’ve been hired to do. The Way of the Gun isn’t as stylized as McQuarrie’s screenplay for The Usual Suspects, but the surprising plot twists detonate with the regularity of well-placed land mines. Even the profanity-laced opening sequences seem to exist merely as a way to shake the audience from the usual expectations.
Within a population of rogues, Parker and Longbaugh are old-school antiheroes: They’re not charming or particularly likable, but they’re infinitely fascinating. As they get further enmeshed in a no-win situation, they begin to look not quite like good guys, but the only ones without a lethal-minded hidden agenda.
The Way of the Gun shows that Christopher McQuarrie knows his genre movie conventions but isn’t afraid to shake them up: A typical high-octane car chase is transformed into a slow-moving cat-and-mouse game; two stoic bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) are more concerned with getting ahead and playing the angles than a wizened bagman (James Caan in another wonderfully sly performance); and the blood ties of family turn out to be the most unpredictable — and most important — element in this bloody tale.
“I don’t think this is a brains kind of operation,” Longbaugh wisely observes. The Way of the Gun is an ode to leaving rational thought behind and just going on instinct.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].