"Way of the Gun", the ambitious directorial debut of screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, is what you would probably get if Quentin Tarantino ever tried to do a Western. And though McQuarrie's script for "Way of the Gun" remains consistent with his claim-to-fame Oscar-winning screenplay for "The Usual Suspects", sporting a collection of anti-heroes who find themselves caught in an ever-growing web of labyrinthine intrigue, the 'gee-whiz' factor is in short supply here, making it a passable piece of post-Pulp that would appeal only to fans of the genre.
In a nod to "Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid", the two anti-heroes of "Way of the Gun" are Mr. Parker (Ryan Phillippe of "Cruel Intentions") and Mr. Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro, who appeared in "The Usual Suspects"), two petty criminals out to make a quick buck. While making a deposit at a sperm bank, they overhear a conversation about a young woman named Robin (Juliette Lewis of "The Other Sister") who will be paid $1 million dollars for carrying the baby of wealthy couple Hale (Scott Wilson) and Francesca (Kristin Lehman) Chidduck. They then come up with a simple-minded scheme: kidnap Robin and hold her for ransom.
Unfortunately, their hastily-slapped-together plan brings a number of other interested parties into the fray, each with their own hidden agenda with respect to Robin and her unborn child. There are the two bodyguards supposedly hired to protect Robin, Jeffers (Taye Diggs of "Go") and Obecks (Nicky Katt of "Boiler Room"), who have their own ideas on what to do with the girl and the ransom money. Meanwhile, Hale Chidduck brings in his long-time associate Joe Sarno (James Caan of "Mickey Blue Eyes"), a professional 'bagman', to help deal with the problem. Finally the concern of Robin's obstetrician, Dr. Allen Painter (Dylan Kussman), goes beyond the standard doctor-patient relationship as he ends up becoming the go-between for all concerned parties. With Robin in the middle, the conflicting motivations of the interested parties converge on a fleabag motel south of the border, resulting in the expenditure of much ammunition.
The most noticeable aspect of "Way of the Gun" is the decidedly Western flavor that McQuarrie paints his film with. From a musical score that evokes the 'spaghetti Westerns' of the Seventies, the unspoken code of conduct that govern the behavior of its anti-heroes, and the wild shoot-outs in desert locales, this is cowboy movie of the "Pulp Fiction" generation. Even the execution of the high-octane action sequences, such as a slower-than-expected car chase near the film's beginning and the closing no-holds-barred gun battle, seems to be a product of old-school Western cinema (like something starring 'The Duke'), with nary a hint of the slo-mo John Woo-style gunplay that has become so commonplace these days.
However, "Way of the Gun" is also lukewarm when it comes to creating genuine emotion on the screen. Similar to "The Usual Suspects", "Way of the Gun" is a film where the machinations of the plot overwhelm everything else, including the characters. Though McQuarrie tries to infuse some quirks and the odd moment of humanity into his characters, particularly with respect to the two protagonists, few of them are actually memorable, let alone likable, and it is sometimes unclear who the audience should be rooting for. The same can be said for the dialogue, which remains unimpressive throughout, except for the odd breakout one-liner.
Much of the momentum of "Way of the Gun" comes from the hoops McQuarrie forces his characters to jump through, as plot twists, double-crosses, and surprising revelations unfurl one after another. Audience involvement is the product of the escalating circumstances in which the characters find themselves trapped in, and not of the characters themselves. Unfortunately, this also results in the noticeably sagging middle, where the film relies entirely on character interaction to maintain momentum, instead of car chases, gunshots, and out-of-control situations. Of course, with vaguely developed characters and uninteresting banter between them, "Way of the Gun" grinds to a halt at this point, and it's a long haul before things get interesting again.
Performances are overall decent, though a better script probably would have helped. Phillippe and Del Toro do serviceable jobs as the two leads, with the former getting the better deal playing the more sympathetic of the duo. Lewis, as the film's root of all mayhem, is adequate, and if you've seen her white trash go-to of "Natural Born Killers" or "Kalifornia", expect more of the same here. Caan acquits himself well playing the calm and composed veteran criminal, which should be no surprise since he has spent much of his career playing such characters. Finally, Diggs and Katt are effectively cold and calculating to instantly identify them as the film's truly-bad 'bad guys'.
With "Way of the Gun", writer/director Christopher McQuarrie shows some genuine potential. Unfortunately, in an environment flooded with Tarantino-esque crime-dramas, the narrative twists, brutal violence, and quirky goings-on found in "Way of the Gun" are hardly groundbreaking, especially in light of the script's lack of attention to character and dialogue. Though fans of the genre may find that this film somewhat satisfying, everyone else will probably be wondering what the fuss is all about.