Way of the Gun Review
There are a few modern films where the popular reaction has been to ignore them on their cinema release, and then enthusiastically rediscover them on video, raving to anyone who will listen about the brilliance of the film. In some cases, as with Gattaca or Arlington Road, this is entirely understandable, given the underrated excellence of the films. However, there's also far too much credence given to undistinguished films, such as Very Bad Things. Way of the Gun falls between the two stools, combining scintillating dialogue and occasionally stunning action scenes with uninspired plotting and credibility-stretching twists.
After a stunningly horrible opening, we are introduced to the anti-heroes of the film, Parker (Philippe) and Longbaugh (del Toro). Two low-lifes in search of the big score, they think they've hit the goldmine when they decide to kidnap a young woman (Lewis), who is carrying the child of a wealthy couple. However, things go horribly, hideously wrong, and the film climaxes in one of the bloodiest, most thrilling, every-bullet-counts endings since Peckinpah laid down his stetson and went off to the great shooting ranch in the sky.
There is a lot to like here. Philippe, an underrated actor, brings a charismatic quality to his portrayal of a psychopath, and is ably matched by del Toro, playing the polar opposite of his moralistic Traffic character. However, James Caan blows them both off the screen, in one of the great performances of last year, and definitely his best since Misery. As the small-time bagman sent after Parker and Longbaugh, Caan plays the closest thing that the film has to a sympathetic character, and does so exceptionally well, at one point saying the immortal line 'Fifteen million dollars is not money, it's a motive with a universal adaptor on it.' McQuarrie's scripting is very nearly of this quality throughout, with line after line recalling the bravura, almost poetic quality of the dialogue in his most famous film, the Usual Suspects. And, as mentioned before, the final gunfight is a classic.
Therefore, you might ask, what's actually wrong with the film? The trouble is that, like Kevin Smith, McQuarrie is a far better writer than director, and, apart from the aforementioned closing scene, the action scenes feel somewhat flat and distanced, while the dialogue scenes often feel little more than actors spouting witty tough-guy lines to one another, in the absence of any real dramatic context. There's a lull for around 40 minutes in the centre of the film where very little actually happens, and this kind of inertia damages the film. It's tempting to imagine what a more experienced director might have done with the film, apart from giving it a more distinctive style and feel, but it's still a bit of a missed opportunity.
That said, this is still a recommended film. It's something of a Peckinpah copy, and the slow middle act does irritate, but the final scenes are so fantastically well-staged that your reaction is likely to be one of approval, rather than boredom. And it also contains the wonderfully cynical line 'There's always free cheese in a mousetrap', which has now become my personal mantra for reviewing abysmal DVDs...
Artisan have done a mixed job here. On the one hand, there's no obvious damage to the print, which is as clean and clear as you would expect from such a recent film. However, there's frequent evidence of grain, which is probably deliberate, as well as a very dark tinge to many of the scenes, which probably isn't. Personally, I haven't been all that impressed with the vast majority of Artisan's transfers, as most seem to have comparatively high levels of grain and shadow; this will hopefully be remedied soon.
A good 5.1 mix is provided, which gets a fairly active workout most of the time, both in the action scenes and the quieter scenes, where the surrounds are often used to simulate dialogue, traffic, background noise etc. It's not as constantly active as, say, Die Hard or T2, but this is a very good use of a sound mix, and it struck me as being rather better than the one that I heard when I saw the film at the cinema.
The ones 'quantity over quality' spring to mind. The main extra, a commentary with McQuarrie and his composer, starts off as if it's going to be one of the best ever recorded, with a very strong mix of witty insights, candid recollections and genuinely interesting discussion into the themes of the film, but soon settles into a rather duller pattern of saying, over and over again, that X doesn't work, but..., which may well be refreshingly self-critical, but is also monotous to listen to. The composer, Joe Kraemer, also makes some sporadic comments on the isolated score track, which are of little real interest.
The rest of the extras are tiresome. The cast and crew interviews are very short, very useless and almost hidden away in the biography section. The behind-the-scenes footage is watchable, but probably only once, and the script of the deleted scene is a bizarre addition, not least because it's in a completely different style to the rest of the film, feeling more like the continued adventures of Keyser Soze. Still, it's better to have these than not to have any extras at all.
If ever a film was redeemed by a few aspects, this was it. A fantastic closing scene, good performances and a quotable script do manage to make this the sort of film that's rewatchable, despite the s-l-o-w patch in the middle. The disc is nothing special, but it's not a bad effort for a low-budget film. And, to quote the great Jimmy Caan in this once again, 'I can promise you a day of reckoning that you won't live long enough to regret.'