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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 1/5/01

The Way of the Gun
2000 (2000) - Artisan

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Way of the Gun Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B

Specs and Features

119 min, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 59:37 in chapter 16), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer, isolated musical score with commentary by Joe Kraemer, cast and crew interviews, 3 "behind-the-scenes" featurettes, storyboard and script presentation of a deleted scene, cast and crew filmographies, production notes, 1 theatrical trailer, 5 TV spots, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (35 chapters), language: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

I can't say that I envy Christopher McQuarrie. The success of his second screenplay, The Usual Suspects, ultimately earned him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It's the kind of script that a lot of people loved because it didn't really follow convention, and the clever ending made you re-think everything you'd just seen. Where, as a filmmaker, do you go after that kind of success? With The Way of the Gun, McQuarrie tries his hand at directing. The result is an entertaining, if somewhat formulaic, yarn of a film. Don't go into it expecting another The Usual Suspects or you'll end up feeling disappointed. This one has more in common with gritty outlaw Westerns than it does with crime capers. But, like The Usual Suspects, it's also meant to make you cheer for the bad guys.

The bad guys this go-around are Parker (Ryan Phillippe, with a horribly indescribable accent) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro), two small time crooks looking for a big payoff. While making a legitimate buck (at a fertility clinic, no less), they learn of a young mother (Juliette Lewis) who is carrying the surrogate baby of a well-to-do couple. Their plan is simple - kidnap her and hold her hostage in exchange for a healthy ransom. Easy enough, right? Well... sort of. There's a little more at stake here than Parker and Longbaugh are privy to. There's an experienced "bagman" (James Caan) on their tail, as well as two devoted, trigger-happy bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt), who will stop at nothing to bring the mother and unborn child back to safety. The more involved Parker and Longbaugh become in their kidnapping scheme, the more they have to rethink their strategies and try new routes to get their loot.

The Way of the Gun has its moments of wild, exhilarating action. Most of the story is built around these imaginative, elaborate gun and rifle contests, and they make the rest of the film a little more palatable. These shoot-out scenes are the only times the script, which is sometimes too plot-heavy for its own good, is put on the back burner. Many of these action sequences seem to be intentional Sam Peckinpah references. According to the production notes, McQuarrie's aim was to avoid any possible references at all to Peckinpah. Either he tried too hard or not enough, because it reads a lot like the "how-to" manual on modern day Westerns. You've got a generic, deserted border town, sun-drenched outdoor scenes, innocent bystanders and a plentiful supply of bullets. There was a time when Hollywood churned out these films like clockwork, but they don't get made very often these days. Maybe it's because they aren't done correctly often enough. The Way of the Gun isn't a perfect movie, but if you can swallow a lot of the unnecessary plotline, then you'll have no problem digesting the rest of the film.

Artisan continues their string of satisfying DVD's with their release of The Way of the Gun. The anamorphic transfer shows a great deal of detail in color reproduction and black level. Some of the night scenes have impenetrable blacks that never let up in intensity. This also gives way to some fine shadow detailing, which lends even more depth to an already theater-like image. Flesh tones are warm and even, and color saturation comes across very naturally. I was able to spot a bit of artifacting from time to time, but you won't find much more than that in the way of picture defects. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also a winner. For the most part, the sound is a subdued (yet effective) mix, that makes only faint, understated use of your sound system. Dialogue is soft, but its integrity is never jeopardized by overactive music or effects tracks. But once the gunfire starts up, you're really going to feel like you're in the middle of it all. Shots explode and zing between the discreet rear channels and pan back and forth between the front end of the system. Bass is strong, and adds a good deal of power and effect to the mix. Nicely done.

A good set of features adds to the appeal of the disc. First up is the commentary track by writer/director McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer. Kraemer's commentary takes a back seat to McQuarrie on a few occasions, but the two play off each other nicely and share lots of stories about the making of the movie. McQuarrie is very generous with his insights as a first-timer, and is as quick to point out things he didn't like as he is to discuss what impressed him. Kraemer's solo commentary with the isolated score also has its appeal, but is probably a better listen for those looking for a primer on scoring a film. Tucked in with the production notes are three short "behind-the-scenes" vignettes, that are comprised mostly of short outtakes from the film. They're worth seeing once, but they hold no long-term interest. The cast and crew interviews have some good nuggets of information about the film, but I didn't much care for the way they were incorporated into the features. As you flip through the pages of the filmographies, you're forced to sit through 15 or 20 seconds of dialogue before you get to the text information. It's viable information, but it would have been more effective corralled into one feature, rather than sprinkled around in bits and parts. The last of the major features is a storyboard sequence of a deleted scene. You can choose (via the arrow keys on your remote) to watch how the scene would have played out by either reading the script or following the storyboards. A set of theatrical trailers and TV spots tops off the features.

If there's a glaring weak point to this otherwise satisfactory Artisan disc, it's in the area of subtitles. As is the case with many of Artisan's previous discs, they've elected to not include any foreign language tracks or subtitles on the DVD. I'd particularly like to see more consistent use of subtitles on their discs. Not only are they handy when you can't quite understand muddy-sounding dialogue, but it's a feature that a lot of people depend on for basic enjoyment of a film.

All in all, this DVD is a good way to discover a film that got lost in the shuffle of major studio releases. It's a decent combination of 1970s action films and 1960s Westerns. The Way of the Gun is prone to revelling in its "hipness" on occasion, but it overcomes that with alluring (and strangely, not too bloody) gun fights and action sequences. I think it probably plays better at home than it does in the theater. And the review button on your remote may come in handy on occasion to help you catch up with confused plot.

Dan Kelly
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