The Way of the Gun

I'm one of the few who didn't care for The Usual Suspects, the popular thriller that made stars out of Kevin Spacey, director Bryan Singer, and writer Christopher McQuarrie. The film's famous "twist" ending felt like a ripoff to me because it negated the entire two hours leading up to it. One thing I will say about McQuarrie's directorial debut The Way of the Gun: you won't find any shaggy dog endings here.

What starts out as your basic dunderheaded kidnapping story (crooks Benicio del Toro and Ryan Phillippe nabbing a very pregnant Juliette Lewis) gets mercilessly complicated as more and more characters – all with near-Dickensian relationships with one another – join the fray. In fact, if there's one thing more dizzying than the film's byzantine plot, it's the interconnections between all these people: the wealthy mobster for whom Lewis is carrying the baby, his hired "bag man" (a terrific James Caan) who has to deliver the ransom, and the various shady sidekicks who come and go. In an era where you can guess plot twists 20 minutes before they happen, that's refreshing. And almost every strange bit of character motivation becomes clear enough by story's end, though a few loose ends are intentionally left dangling.

McQuarrie proves to be pretty good at directing action; the title says it all here, as there are more zinging bullets than in anything since John Woo left Hong Kong. (The bullets even feel real. This film has a rare sense of the mechanics of gunplay.) His dialogue feels a bit overwritten towards the beginning, but once the action sets in, most everybody shuts up. The cast is fine (particularly del Toro, who comes off as a latter-day Humphrey Bogart) and there is a grand, dramatic score by Joe Kraemer.

This movie would have been bulldozed over by the great films of 1999, but in 2000 an intelligent film like this – even if it has little to say – stands out.