The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Way Of The Gun
Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before its time or has aged like a fine wine.
Two violent criminals (Phillippe and Del Toro) kidnap a girl being paid $1m to be a surrogate mother for a wealthy gangster (Scott Wilson) and his wife, only to find themselves ruthlessly tracked by the girl's bodyguards and an aging bagman determined to retrieve the girl without paying a ransom. Shootouts, double-crosses, and twisting reveals all lead to a chaotic finale of bad vs. bad.
The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (JACK REACHER), who cast Benicio Del Toro as Mr. Longbaugh and hesitantly cast Ryan Phillippe as Mr. Parker (both characters share the same last name as Robert Redford and Paul Newman's characters in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID). The rest of cast was filled out with Scott Wilson (Herscel from The Walking Dead) as the gangster, Juliette Lewis as the surrogate mother, Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt as the bodyguards, James Caan as Joe Sarno, the aging bagman, and Dylan Kussman as the doctor.
"I was very resistant to Ryan at first. He worked completely against what I imagined Parker to be, I had a different picture of the character in my mind. I wanted someone with more miles on the clock, someone who was more of a brawler and more on the same plane as Benicio. You can see a lifetime of experience in Benicio, and I didn't imagine I'd see that with Ryan. But when I said no Ryan's response was that he wouldn't take a no without a meeting. So I met with him, and asked why he wanted to do this movie. He said because he's an actor, and yet people were trying to make him into a movie star. My producer Ken Kokin pointed out that the one actor I didn't want in The Usual Suspects was Benicio Del Toro. So I met with Ryan, and he met the challenges of the role head on so I cast him. Six weeks later he showed up at rehearsal, he'd grown a beard, put on 25 pounds of muscle and looked how I imagined he should."
McQuarrie was coming off the massive success of Bryan Singer's THE USUAL SUSPECTS, which he'd written in 1995 and was struggling with what to do next. New to the pressures of Hollywood, McQuarrie was constantly pushed in the direction of doing another crime film, which he resisted until Del Toro convinced him to move forward with the idea. McQuarrie came up with THE WAY OF THE GUN, writing it in just five days, quickly jumping into his first directorial effort with little experience in the craft. With a $21 million budget, the film ended up flopping with a worldwide gross of $13 million and was mostly split with critics. Since it's debut, the film has slowly settled into cult status.
"It's the movie I wish I could do over again: I wish I could take that basic concept and make that as a film again with everything that I've learned... If only because it was the last truly original idea that I worked with." - Christopher McQuarrie
WHY ITS GREAT:
THE WAY OF THE GUN is very much like a modern day western, complete with sketchy protagonists, mysterious characters, questionable motives, doublecrosses, and the Wild West mindset of guns and violence as a means to an end. It's an uncompromising viewpoint, shared by all the characters, who don't think to rectify any of their issues diplomatically. The characters without guns understand this better than those with them, as their every move is determined by who is holding a loaded weapon and who is not.
"...I think Chris has more of a message, not so much glorification. It's pretty raw and challenging, sometimes uncomfortably so. Chris doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience. To me, this movie is more like a modern Western, like Peckinpah. Chris calls it a Western with cell phones. We don't do any of the double-fisted gun moves, we stayed away from all the BS that looks cool; we wanted it to look like surveillance footage rather than some of those movies that tend to get masturbatory, just in coolness." - Ryan Phillipe
From the opening scene, which is probably the most talked about alongside the explosive finale, you know that you're dealing with a film that isn't trying to win over a traditional audience. It goes in the very opposite direction from the first frame and just keeps driving. Nothing is painted in broad strokes. Instead of the good and the bad being laid out for you, it ultimately becomes your choice as to who to root for, if anyone.
As he did with THE USUAL SUSPECTS and many films since, Del Toro gives a quiet, malevolent performance as a man with almost no moral center. For as wise as he seems, he's just as childlike in his views of the world. For Phillippe, the film stands as one of the best roles he's ever had (if not the best role), as it plays completely against the romcom prettyboy route he could've followed, especially after coming off hits like CRUEL INTENTIONS and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Phillipe's Parker is a conundrum; dressed in the face of a hero, but acting like the villain. It's a role that most actors pursuing leading man status can't say yes to and yet Phillippe fought for it.
The supporting cast is aided substantially by James Caan, who is perhaps the closest thing to a real protagonist in the film. Cann's very presence demands attention and many of his exchanges are paramount to the film, especially during a bar scene between him and Del Toro. The film is full of these moments, with characters exchanging words with weight, often saying one thing, while meaning another, which is very often the way we speak in our everyday lives. Diggs and Katt are menacing enough as the bodyguards on Longbaugh and Parker's trail, being just cold and stoic enough to fit into the film's paradigm.
What makes THE WAY OF THE GUN great is that it fits the genre in very much the way the charaters interact. It was marketed as an action crime caper, but underneath it's an allegorical crime film that shows the ugly side of the pretty. It's an action movie without the gloss filter, right down to the tactics (McQuarrie's brother is a Navy SEAL who advised on all the shootouts...and it shows). There are issues with the film, from the intermittent pacing and Juliette Lewis' constant crying and screaming, but it otherwise stands as an outstanding anti-action film, soaked in metaphor, lost in genre, and bold in message. THE WAY OF THE GUN is a big middle finger to Hollywood's action movie template and there's something deeply satisfying about that.
"The Way of the Gun is nothing if not an allegory for my struggles in Hollywood. It's all in there. You just have to listen. Christopher McQuarrie
MEMORABLE SCENE: The final shootout is the best sequence of the film, by far, but in terms of memorable scenes, the opening scene of Longbaugh and Parker dealing with a confrontation with a mouthy Sarah Silverman and her boyfriend is well regarded as an absolute classic.
WATCH IT: THE WAY OF THE GUN is available on DVD/Blu-Ray. Order here!
"We wanted to make something honest. We also had a deep hatred for what the system had done to storytelling in the name of political correctness. I wanted to make a film in which violence was not a justified or qualified act. I wanted to make a film that was difficult to watch. I wanted to make a film about violence and criminals that had to be endured rather than something that entertained without consequence. Unfortunately, very few people in this country were in the mood to endure it." - Christopher McQuarrie
The trailer for THE WAY OF THE GUN is a perfect example of irony, as the conventions and stereotypes that McQuarrie fought against are exactly what were used to market the film. Take a look:
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