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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Way of the Gun (2000)

"Money is what you take to the grocery store. It's what you get out of the ATM. Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adaptor on it."
- Joe Sarno (James Caan)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: January 14, 2001

Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe, James Caan
Other Stars: Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt
Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (strong violence/gore, language, and some sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:59m:14s
Release Date: January 02, 2001
UPC: 012236104186
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BBB+ B+

DVD Review

Torture with barbed wire . . . A gruesome delivery by cesarean section . . . Gun shots to the neck and everywhere else. This is gratuitous and irresponsible violence. Or is it?

In Way of the Gun, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie performs a revisionist take on the crime genre by heightening the realism and removing the morality. The supposed heroes of the film are Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio del Toro), two small-time hoodlums who think little of killing innocent bystanders. They make no excuses for their actions, even if it destroys the lives of others. Their new plan is the kidnapping of Robin (Juliette Lewis), the surrogate mother for an extremely wealthy couple. What they fail to realize is that the baby's father will be Hale Chidduck, a powerful man with connections to unsavory individuals.

One of Hale's "bagmen" is Joe Sarno (James Caan), a hulking, weary old man who describes himself as a "survivor." He exists in another league from Parker and Longbaugh, who devise a plan without thinking. Sarno strolls through the film with a sad understanding of the direction of this tale. Caan wonderfully plays him with the slow, deliberate movements of a man with a large weight on his shoulders. He may not enjoy this life much, but he continues to survive because of his wits and lives for his mysterious emotional ties. In one of the film's best scenes, he meets Longbaugh for coffee and pinpoints the unfortunate direction of their plan. The impressive, understated acting of both Caan and del Toro showcases the quiet insight shared between these two adversaries. It is a surprising and realistic conversation that underscores this film's variation from the generic crime caper.

After an energetic, unrelated prologue, Way of the Gun jumps right into the story with a shootout and an inventive car chase. While chilling bodyguards Jeffers (Taye Diggs) and Obecks (Nicky Katt) pursue Parker and Longbaugh in their car, little dialogue exist, and no major stunts take place. However, this scene stands as one of my favorite car chases of recent years because of its creativity. To give away any more would ruin your enjoyment of the scene. Unfortunately, the story then begins to falter amidst a wealth of character development and exposition. The events are fairly interesting, but the pace lags and stunts the nice flow that began in the intriguing early section. Once Parker and Longbaugh ask for the large ransom, the film slows down and begins to drag towards its rousing shootout finale. This middle portion does contain several impressive moments, especially a wonderful scene with Francesca Chidduck, Hale's wife. Stunning actress Kristin Lehman stands in awe while viewing the video of Robin's unborn child, and the effect is extraordinary.

This cast contains a score of excellent performances from a variety of talented actors. Before viewing this film, I considered Ryan Phillippe, who gained prime roles based on his good looks, a mediocre actor at best. However, he really surprises here with a tough, gritty performance that showcases his acting skills. Benicio del Toro recently gave a wonderful, tortuous performance in Traffic, Stephen Soderbergh's human exploration of the drug trade. While the role of Longbaugh fails to offer that type of emotional richness, he brings a impressive level of insight to his character. Juliette Lewis is given the difficult task of playing a pregnant girl who spends much of the film screaming in pain, and she does a decent job. Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt also bring life to the mechanical bodyguards. I loved Diggs' repeated line: "My only concern is for the child, no one else."

Christopher McQuarrie also wrote The Usual Suspects, a compelling film with a shocking plot twist that made you reconsider the entire story. Way of the Gun also contains numerous twists and revelations, but they serve an entirely different function. The events are unpredictable and mysterious, but they make sense and exist within the world of this film. Audiences spend the movie trying to identify with the major characters, and eventually they realize that it won't happen. McQuarrie heightens the disturbing violence and mayhem, but the actions don't correspond with our feelings about justice. This works differently than a crime film like Reservoir Dogs, where the violence appears intended to shock the audience. In this film, the camera acts as a spectator, and while the images are shocking, they're played more for realism than pure shock value.

The realistic look and muted colors of this film hearken back to the crime films and westerns of the '50s and '60s. In a similar vein, this story is not an crowd-pleaser due to its lack of redeemable qualities in its main characters. I understand McQuarrie's intentions for this film, and the story kept my interest during a majority of the scenes. Sadly, there is a point during the third act where the gore and bleakness alienated me from the story. I'm not usually squeamish, but I believe it goes too far several times during the ultimate showdown. The unpredictability of the scenes is refreshing and bold, but the violence is difficult to take. When the smoke has cleared, however, McQuarrie saves the film with an excellent ending filled with ambiguity, pain, and redemption.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The images on this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer include a significant amount of grain, but this corresponds with the overall look for the film. In several scenes, the amount is too much to dismiss as intentional, however. The black levels are solid, and the colors work efficiently within the muted tones in the story. They're not bright, but that makes sense because little brightness exists in Way of the Gun. I noticed several specks of dirt on the print and a few other minor defects. Overall, the picture is clear and sharp, and the transfer works well by staying with the tone of the story.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: For a film titled Way of the Gun, the story contains a surprisingly large number of extensive dialogue scenes. This lessens the effect of this excellent 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio transfer. During the final shootout, however, the guns pop and crackle throughout the sound field. With characters firing from all directions, it gives you the feeling of being in the middle of this intense battle. The shots jump from the speakers, and add life to the energetic finale of this film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director/Writer Christopher McQuarrie and Composer Joe Kraemer
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Cast and crew interviews
  2. Storyboards and script of a deleted scene
Extras Review: Artisan has given Way of the Gun its due with a disc containing some interesting extra features. The Cast and Crew section includes decent biographies and extensive filmographies of all of the main actors and crew. In addition, the sections for Ryan Phillippe, Benicio del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, James Caan, and Nicky Katt includes an additional bonus. When you scroll through each screen, a short clip from an interview appears with the corresponding actor. While the answers usually only last for around 15 seconds, and the comments aren't particularly deep, it's a nice feature.

The second major extra includes the storyboards and script for an entirely different beginning to the film. The opening is similar, although it exists at a coffee shop with a "Particularly Hip Man" instead of the long-haired goofball in the film. But afterwards, the story moves in a completely different direction than the actual movie. It's also interesting to note that McQuarrie's original thought for the James Caan-type role was Christopher Walken.

The real drawing point here is the feature-length commentary with Christopher McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer. Kraemer basically plays the host role and asks the writer/director questions about the film. McQuarrie's comments are fairly scene-specific, but they provide a tremendous amount of insight into his ideas for the story. I enjoyed hearing his comments about criticism of the film, especially concerning his supposed stealing from Peckinpah. His goal with the story was to debunk the idea that people only can kill others if they deserve it. I generally enjoy commentaries more when directors don't just praise the film, and McQuarrie does a good job of explaining the problems of the story frankly.

The second major feature is the isolated music track, which also contains commentary by Joe Kraemer. It's interesting to hear him explain the origin of the energetic castanet-driven theme song. I love isolated music tracks because they focus on the power of the score, and also allow me to concentrate on the visuals of the film. The only drawback on this disc is the lack of subtitles, which would enhance both commentaries.

This disc also contains fairly detailed production notes that add even more background to this film.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Way of the Gun is the type of film that divides audiences with its extreme violence and variance from the typical crime film. A large portion will hate it, while another group will adore it—for the exact same reasons. My opinion exists somewhere in the middle, with an understanding for both sides. The film contains splendid acting and numerous interesting scenes, but it's impact is lessened by several gruesome scenes and a slow second act.

 


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