Existentialist Losers Live 'The Way of the Gun'

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Existentialist Losers Live 'The Way of the Gun'

Christopher McQuarrie's "The Way of the Gun" is an aptly titled shoot-em-up action thriller that goes a bit deeper than your average Schwarzenegger or Stallone flick. You abruptly realize this when the two main characters needlessly insult and instigate a fight with a crowd of people in the very first scene of the movie.

Hopelessly outnumbered and with no possible chance of escaping harm, they act with careless abandon and seem to relish the experience. Arnold or Sly would have defeated the impossible odds, but here, the mob proceeds to beat our heroes silly and you can't help but wonder why they picked the fight in the first place.

French philosophers Camus or Sartre would agree that it makes no sense to ask these criminal existentialists for any sense of reasoning or morality behind their actions. When you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, the fine line between good and bad is a little bit easier to cross.

Since the main characters have nothing to lose, nothing to gain and expect only an untimely death, they act on impulse and do as they please. Later in the movie after they kidnap a woman for ransom, the background narration gives voice to their indifference: "We don't expect to get the money, we count on getting killed. Anything goes wrong . . . we win."

Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) and Parker (Ryan Phillippe) are two criminals who travel around in a beat-up car searching for their big score. While making donations at blood and sperm banks for fast cash, they happen to overhear a conversation with a shady millionaire couple who hired a woman named Robin (Juliette Lewis) to become artificially inseminated and have their baby.

In the hopes of getting a $15 million ransom, the two set off immediately to the hospital and kidnap Robin, but not without a showdown against the millionaire couple's Armani-wearing bodyguards Jeffers and Obecks.

Longbaugh and Parker are reckless and their plans half-baked, but as we see later, they are not stupid. Meticulous in their getaway execution and with plenty of firepower savvy they hide out in Mexico (always the designated hide-out in movies) and wait for the ransom.

Because the millionaire is the "brains" behind a money laundering operation, going to the police isn't an option. Instead, he calls in the bagman, Joe Sarno (James Caan), who regularly cleans up his mess.

The first scene choke-starts the movie and slaps you into attention from the start. This a fast paced movie whose action and suspense don't stop for an instant. Even the car chase scene is dazzling and done like none other I've seen in the past 100 movies, which will be a comfort to viewers since car chase scenes are to movies what drumming solos are to rock concerts - a complete bore.

Present throughout the movie is the kind of witty dialogue Christopher McQuarrie became famous for as a screenwriter in the award-winning "The Usual Suspects." In this directorial debut, he succeeds again as a screenwriter, and also shows that as a director he has a well-trained eye for backdrop.

In an acknowledgment of viewers' nostalgia for the "old west," the end of the movie is filmed in a Mexican ghost town reminiscent of the cult classic "El Mariachi."

Benicio Del Toro's baggy eyes and face (that's hard to put an age to), is seemingly everywhere at once, with roles in "Traffic" and "Snatch." For "Traffic" he just won an Oscar, but this performance is also worth seeing.

Phillippe's pretty boy appearance in no way hinders his ability to play a depraved criminal, and despite his age, his character gives the impression that he is an old hand at crime.

In a surprise turn of events, Juliette Lewis, whose career has been a bit slow of late, redeems herself as a pregnant and vulnerable woman in this role. James Caan, on the other hand, continues with his boring streak of tough guy characters.

The parallels that McQuarrie draws with existentialism are obvious both from the actions of the main characters and the dialogue. Even the title itself, "The Way of the Gun," refers to the responsibility that the existentialist must take for his actions in an unfathomable world, and suggests that "those who live by the sword, die by the sword."

by Joseph Kim

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