Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Way of the Gun: SE (2000)
Studio Line: Artisan Entertainment

From the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects, this wickedly off-beat mix of crime, comedy and gunplay stars Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro.

Convinced they'll score big money fast by kidnapping a young surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) carrying the child of a wealthy Southwestern couple, the two small-caliber crooks soon run into major problems. Realizing too late that they're in over their heads, the kidnappers fight to keep their plan from unraveling amid a rising tide of bloodshed, mind games and greed.

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis, James Caan, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, Scott Wilson, Dylan Kussman
Box Office: Budget: $9 million. Opening Weekend: $2.15 million (1515 screens). Gross: $6.047 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; rated R; 119 min.; $24.98; street date 1/2/01.
Supplements: Commentaries by Director/Writer Christopher McQuarrie and Composer Joe Kraemer; Isolated Music Track with Commentary by Composer Joe Kraemer; Cast and Crew Interviews; Behind-the-Scenes; Storyboards and Script of a Deleted Scene; Theatrical Trailer; TV Spots; Cast and Crew Information; Production Notes.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Joe Kraemer

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/A-/B

Any movie that starts with the Stonesí ďRip This JointĒ canít be all bad, and The Way of the Gun definitely commences with a bang. In addition to that solid tune from 1972ís Exile On Main Street, the film offers an insanely profane and over-the-top opening sequence that deserves to become legendary.

Unfortunately, Way shoots its wad before stragglers will have entered the theater. After that terrific opening, the picture shows intermittent signs of life but it canít quite live up to its promise. Ultimately, it limps along for most of its running time and fails to achieve much of great interest.

Way tells the story of low-lifes Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) who eke out a living through activities like sperm donation. They attempt The Big Score when they hear that a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) carries the baby for a filthy rich couple. Of course, things donít go smoothly, largely because the father of the child is seriously connected with the mob. Much violence ensues, along with a lot of plot twists.

Too many plot twists, to be honest, as the film spins in circles to keep us off guard. Semi-convoluted stories arenít a bad thing; writer/director Christopher McQuarrie pulled off exactly that kind of tale with his script for the wonderful The Usual Suspects. However, in Way, the machinations seem to substitute for a solid story and actual character development. I donít want to go into many details; the film contains many potential spoilers, so Iíll remain mum about the specifics. However, the intertwined relationships among characters quickly gets absurd, and these involvements donít add to the movie. Instead, they create a ridiculous sense of soap opera that overwhelms much of the pictureís positive points.

These character flaws really are what sabotages Way. The story itself is played in an unusual manner, mainly because of the questionable morality of all the participants. There are no true good or bad guys here, which creates a more realistic kind of film. Iím fine with that, as I really donít need black and white roles to make a movie work for me.

However, I found the characters to be sketchily drawn and executed without much flair. After the vivid portrayals seen in The Usual Suspects, the variety of flat roles we find in Way is a let-down. I donít think this is the fault of the cast, although I found Phillippeís acting to be overly affected and artificial; he tries to let his accent do the work for him.

Instead, I think the blame resides with McQuarrie. Way was his first project since 1995ís Suspects, and as we learn in the commentary, he had a difficult time getting funding for anything other than another crime story, especially since he obviously wanted to direct. Eventually he gave in to this pressure and did Way. However, this project feels somewhat like his rebuttal to all those who tried to pigeonhole him. McQuarrie appears to have gone out of his way to make a crime story that doesnít fit in with all of the rest, and along the way, he ignored a lot of standard aspects that would have allowed Way to seem more coherent and compelling.

At times, Way provides a good ride, but I found these moments to occur too infrequently. McQuarrie clearly possesses a lot of talent, though I think most of his skills fall in the text domain; as a director, he seems somewhat unable to rein in the writerís excesses. The Way of the Gun definitely isnít a bad film, but as the de facto follow-up to a tremendous piece of work like The Usual Suspects, it seems like a definite disappointment.

The DVD:

The Way of the Gun appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As a whole, the picture looked solid, with only a few minor complaints along the way.

For the most part, sharpness seemed strong. Most of the movie appeared crisp and well-defined. Although mild softness interfered with a few shots, these were rare. Moirť effects and jagged edges presented no noticeable concerns. Surprisingly, print flaws caused more definite problems. I saw moderate levels of grit, grain and speckles during the film. As indicated in the movieís audio commentary, some of these effects seem to have been intentional. However, I donít think that was the case for all of them; itís hard to tell where stylistic choices end and defects begin, but I thought Way showed more flaws than it should have, although they remain pretty modest for most of the film.

Colors generally came across as bold and bright, but they could display excessive saturation at times. Again, this may have been intentional for parts of the film, but that was unclear to me. In any case, hues largely were solid, with only moderate heaviness on occasion. Black levels seemed nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail usually was appropriately opaque, but shots of Taye Diggs looked somewhat too thick, and it could be difficult to make him out in some low-light scenes. Overall, the picture of The Way of the Gun appeared good, but a few concerns knocked down my rating to a ďBĒ.

More consistently pleasing was the filmís Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This mix provided a nicely rich and natural atmosphere in which all five speakers featured clearly-delineated sound. As usual, the forward channels bore the brunt of the work, but the surrounds also contributed a large amount of satisfying reinforcement. The mix blended together well and offered a smooth and involving experience.

Audio quality seemed solid. Dialogue generally appeared natural and distinct. For reasons unknown, some of Juliette Lewisí came across as somewhat edgy, but this problem did not affect the lines spoken by other actors. Music seemed bright and dynamic, with fine low end, while effects were very clear as well. The latter packed a serious punch at times, especially during gunfight scenes; these segments appeared crisp and powerful, with some strong bass added to the mix. Ultimately, the soundtrack to Way provided a solidly effective affair.

The Way of the Gun contributes a few supplements, starting with an audio commentary from writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer. Actually, this running track is dominated by McQuarrie, and Kraemer often functions as little more than an interviewer who sparks the bossí memory. And thatís a good thing, as the result is a fun and dynamic experience. As we heard in the commentary for The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie seems to work best when he interacts with someone, and the chemistry between him and Kraemer is solid, though the latter seems a little subservient at times; the track for TUS worked better just because the two participants - McQuarrie and director Bryan Singer - were on more equal ground.

Nonetheless, this commentary provides a consistently enthralling listen as McQuarrie covers a lot of territory. He discusses the original script and alterations made to it, various issues related to the actors, interpretation of the film and what he tried to do with the story, and a slew of other topics. Few stones are left unturned in this seriously terrific commentary.

If you feel bad for Kraemer since he doesnít get to say much in the first track, buck up, little buckaroo - thereís another audio commentary on the DVD as well. That one combines an isolated score with remarks from Kraemer. Presented in Dolby Surround, we get all of Kraemerís music from the film, but none of the incidental songs composed by others - like the Stonesí ďRip This JointĒ - appear. Instead, we hear lots of great information from Kraemer during those gaps. He covers a myriad of topics that relate to his work, from specific instrumentation and technical decisions to discussions with the director to various influences. Itís one of the more interesting commentaries of this sort that Iíve heard.

Actually, Iíve found most composer commentaries to be pretty compelling, which surprises me since Iím not terribly fond of movie scores. I also was taken by Kraemerís work on Way as I listened to this track. I hadnít really absorbed the music while I watched the film itself, but now that I heard it solo, I found the score to be pretty strong. Although itís disappointing that the music wasnít presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, the DVD at least offers it completely uncut and generally replicates it well.

While Way provides no fully-filmed deleted scenes, we do find another representation an unused sequence. The movieís original opening piece is displayed via excerpts from the script and storyboards. Itís not as useful as actual movie footage, but itís a good look at an alternate way to start the film.

Within the ďCast and CrewĒ area, I found a surprising treat. In addition to some brief but decent biographical entries, we also get a bunch of interview sound bites. Each of these runs about 15 to 20 seconds, and they appear as you flip from screen to screen during the listings for Ryan Phillippe, Benicio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, and James Caan. The snippets lack depth, but they add an interesting little extra to the disc. Itís kind of a neat way to convey some small bits of information. Thereís nothing mind-blowing here, but it spices up the presentation.

The DVD also provides biographies for actors Scott Wilson, Dylan Kussman, Kristin Lehman, and Geoffrey Lewis. We then get entries for director/writer Christopher McQuarrie, producer Kenneth Kokin, director of photography Dick Pope, production designer Maia Javan, costume designer Heather Neeley McQuarrie, and editor Stephen Semel. Unfortunately, none of these listings also includes the interview clips.

Lastly, some text ďProduction NotesĒ appear on the DVD. These offer a decent look at the making of the film, though they tended to spotlight too much praise from one participant to another. Note that although Iíve read two different reviews of this DVD that indicate it includes a trailer and five TV spots, I can find no evidence of any of these ads. Maybe Iím just a chump, but I searched all over this sucker to no avail. They arenít listed on the DVDís case either. If Iíd only seen one reviewer mention them, Iíd chalk it up to sloppiness, but for two different sites to list them puzzles me.

I donít want to see any sloppiness on the DVD, for thereís enough in the movie itself. The Way of the Gun provides some moments of compelling drama and spark, but these are outweighed by its many lulls and the melodramatic pseudo soap opera it becomes. The DVD provides good picture, terrific sound, and a decent complement of extras headed by two solid audio commentaries. Despite my problems with much of it, I still think Way deserves at least a rental, but I remain disappointed that it fell so far short of its goals.

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