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The Way of the Gun

The first feature film directed by Christopher McQuarrie (the clever scenarist of The Usual Suspects), The Way of the Gun didn't make much of an impression at the U.S. box-office, grossing just $6 million in 2000. Which is something of a surprise, given McQuarrie's writing flair and younger moviegoers' general appetite for blood-soaked crime capers. But even if it wasn't received well theatrically, The Way of the Gun is a worthy entry into the heist genre, with plenty of suspense, violence, and a pair of thoroughly amoral leading men. The opening scene says it all, as the ne'er-do-well "Parker" (Ryan Phillippe) and "Longbaugh" (Benicio Del Toro) refuse to back down from a fight with a crowd of people, which results in a severe beating for the both of them. Like their namesakes Butch and Sundance, they might learn the value of tactical retreat, but the truth is that these guys don't care about the consequences of anything, just the potential upside. And thus, lacking ideas and donating blood and semen for cash, they happen upon a scheme that will allow them to retire for life — kidnap a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) who is carrying the child of a wealthy businessman, head for Mexico, and phone in the demands. The only problem is that the businessman is actually a ruthless money launderer (Scott Wilson), complete with bloodthirsty bodyguards (Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt), and a "bagman," Joe Sarno (James Caan), a crafty old Mafia associate who is dispatched to Mexico to undertake negotiations and otherwise with the luckless duo. McQuarrie, already renowned as a master of intricate plotting because of The Usual Suspects, matches that skill in The Way of the Gun with a subtle twist-and-turn storyline that allows crucial information to be gradually gleaned by the viewer, rather than trod out on the stage all at once. McQuarrie also has a gift for dialogue and language, and the entire two hours here crackles with priceless asides, in addition to some remarkable monologues that may stretch the limits of contemporary drama, but work nonetheless (Caan's speech to the family obstetrician, explaining how he does business, is a show-stopper). With this sort of foundation, the numerous shoot-outs that one would expect from a movie called The Way of the Gun aren't empty set-pieces, but rather drive the story forward relentlessly, from the opening kidnapping (and tense cat-and-mouse car chase) to the Mexican whorehouse finale — a ballet of bullets reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah at his best. Artisan's DVD edition of The Way of the Gun features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DD 5.1 audio, and features include a commentary track with McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer, an isolated score with additional commentary by Kraemer, a deleted scene told via script and storyboards, and textual supplements. Keep-case.

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