The Way of the Gun

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie

The Way of the Gun takes place beneath the surface; people are not who they seem. But this film is no Usual Suspects, because there is no twist, no gotcha. McQuarrie hints at characters' motivations without revealing; he's a plot tease. We learn Dr. Painter committed some gruesome act in Baltimore, but we never learn what happened -- which only makes his secret all the more venal, or at least as venal as the moviegoer's imagination will allow. There's nothing McQuarrie could tell us that will top what we think Painter has done, so we can never judge him: His actions suggest a "good guy," whereas his secret past hints at the very bad guy within. We never know whether he's contrite or impenitent; neither, it seems, does he.

But there are no good or bad guys in The Way of the Gun; everyone in the movie is covered in a dingy shade of gray, and the "wrong" people suffer the consequences. "Karma's only justice without the satisfaction," growls Caan's Sarno, "and I don't believe in justice." Everyone is conflicted, and no one is to be trusted. McQuarrie gives the audience final power: We judge, condemn, sympathize, like and loathe without being told whom to root for. Had The Way of the Gun been produced by someone like Jerry Bruckheimer, or directed by Michael Bay or Dominic Sena, Parker and Longbaugh would have been smart-alecky villains-as-heroes -- Nic Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds, the wronged bad guy seeking revenge. They would either pay for their crimes or skip off into the sunset, rich and free, but McQuarrie digs up that third option, and the movie has a more fulfilling finale for it.

There's not much to like about Parker and Longbaugh: When the kidnapping goes bad, when Robin's bodyguards try to come between them and their prey, they go out with guns blazing, taking out any innocent bystander between them and their getaway car. We don't see the shootout -- we only hear it, in pop-pop-poppoppop echoes outside the doctor's office -- but we do see a parking lot littered with corpses, and Parker and Longbaugh never comment on the dead bodies; it's just business, after all. But slowly we discover there's a little humanity beneath the grimy exterior: Though it's never said, we can tell that as Parker rubs his hand over Robin's swollen belly he is wondering what his life might have been like had he married, had a family, gone straight. The thought is a fleeting one, but it's there -- like Robin, always muttering in the background, or Hale's wife, Francesca, always floating around a scene without saying a word.

Details

Opening: Sept. 8 at multiple locations
Artisan Films

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McQuarrie feels no need to dash toward the inevitable, bloody finale; he takes his time, paces himself until the silences bear as much weight as the words and explosions that come from guns that grow and grow as the film progresses (a pistol becomes a rifle becomes a machine gun). There's no reason for Longbaugh and Sarno to have a drink and a smoke in a dumpy Mexican bar, but it's there nonetheless -- a long scene in which bad men talk about their sad lives like bored businessmen at happy hour. For a moment, you will think nothing's happening, and you may be right, but you will not want it to end. Sometimes, when a guy says nothing, he's telling you everything.

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