The Way of the Gun is a mess. Occasionally amusing, often diverting, sometimes surprising, but a mess all the same: juvenile, pointless, paceless, underdeveloped. Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for his smartypants Usual Suspects script, and this is his directorial debut – a learning experience for a brash young talent keen to learn the ropes. And, bearing in mind the fact that most people glean much more benefit from their mistakes and failures than from their successes, McQuarrie’s work on Gun may pay big dividends in future – not much consolation for the audiences who have to sit through it right now, however.

First problem is the casting. Benicio Del Toro is a great character actor, his unique looks, moves and voice combining to make a magnetic screen presence. None of these comments apply to his co-star Ryan Philippe. As ruthless criminals Parker and Longbaugh, they kidnap Robin (Lewis), a surrogate mother heavily pregnant with a child she’s carrying for the Chidducks, a shadily wealthy couple. Philippe has bulked up for his role (credits mention personal trainer Tony Ross) but remains desperately unconvincing, a pouting prettyboy intoning the movie’s hardbitten voice-over in a ludicrous sub-Pacino whine. It’s all such an effort for the lad, especially alongside the languid grace of Del Toro, who almost – almost, but not quite – makes Way of the Gun worth watching. He isn’t the only talented performer on view, but McQuarrie seems to have no idea what to do with either Nicky Katt – wasted as a taciturn bodyguard – or Caan, as the Chidducks’ ageing, wily chief henchman.

McQuarrie has repeatedly spoken in interviews of how his movie is different because it’s real, it shows the real effects of violence, and the real way criminals behave. Laudable aims, but they don’t correspond with the finished movie. Way of the Gun is the same-old same-old, a would-be hip mixture of tedious gunplay and equally tedious philosophical dialogue. Many of the lines are smart, but in a very laborious, very familiar way. One of the characters remarks of a large amount of cash: “It’s not money, it’s a motive with a universal adaptor,” and all you can think of is how long it must have taken McQuarrie to come up with the line, how pleased with himself he must feel – that it’s intolerable Usual Suspects smugness bubbling up again and again.

For all its faults, at least Suspects had an intriguing structure. Gun is shoddily assembled from various ill-fitting parts, awkwardly limping from sequence to sequence and resulting in a film which feels much longer than two hours. The climactic shoot-out in a Mexican brothel is hopelessly overextended, full of very unsurprising ‘revelations’ and capped with a very low-wattage ‘twist’ that barely deserves the name. By this stage, audiences will hopefully have given up waiting for Way of the Gun to fulfil its creator’s lofty expectations – enjoyed as a trashy, lunk-headed thriller, the picture may not actually seem so bad. It could find a niche as a Saturday night video, accompanied by copious amounts of pizzas and beer, lapped up by adolescent teenage boys whooping and cheering at the shenanigans on screen.

Neil Young
13th November 2000
seen 11th November at Odeon West End, London (London Film Festival) – press show

US 2000
dir, scr Christopher McQuarrie
cin Dick Pope
stars Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Philippe, Juliette Lewis, James Caan