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Film / The Way of the Gun

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"We don't want your forgiveness; we won't make excuses. We're not gonna blame you, even if you are an accessory, but we will not accept your natural order. We didn't come for absolution, we didn't ask to be redeemed, but isn't that the way it is? Every goddamn time. Your prayers are always answered, in the order they're received."

The Way of the Gun (2000) is the first film directed by screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, best known at the time for his Oscar-winning script for The Usual Suspects.

After several unsuccessful attempts to get film projects off the ground, McQuarrie ultimately caved to studio pressure and wrote another underworld film, this time attempting to subvert the genre by pointedly exploring the characters' lack of morality. The film centers on two criminal low-lifes who, having chosen to live off the grid, stumble upon a way to strike it big: kidnap the young surrogate mother of a Mafia accountant's child.

It stars Ryan Phillippe, Benicio del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, and James Caan.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Several. Most notably, Joe Sarno having a cup of coffee with Longbaugh, chatting away with him, before several shootouts leading right up to the climax.
  • Affably Evil: Joe Sarno, Mr. Chidduck's enforcer who, in his words, handles all his dirty laundry, which is implied to be far worse than the white collar crime and drug trafficking front Mr. Chidduck is the front man for. He takes Longbaugh out for coffee and they trade stories about their lives of crime.
  • Anti-Hero: Parker and Longbaugh have almost no redeeming qualities and are essentially Designated Heroes. The film makes a point of showing the innocent victims who die during their first attempt at kidnapping Robin. They are given a few brief moments to Pet the Dog, however, and eventually can be favorably compared to Jeffers, who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  • Anti-Villain: Joe Sarno, the bagman who, as it turns out, is trying to rescue his daughter as much as he is supporting his boss and ensuring his own financial security.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: The final showdown.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The sympathetic Robin and Dr. Painter are safe, the amoral Jeffers and Obecks are dead, and our morally ambiguous antiheroes Parker and Longbaugh are left to an uncertain fate.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Deliberately pursued by the director. Parker and Longbaugh are, by default, the protagonists, and they display more morality than some other characters, but they're still cold-blooded killers. The camera lingers on bystanders who were killed through their actions. On the other side of the gun is a corrupt figurehead for corporate abuse and mafia dealings.
  • Black Comedy: One character is introduced sitting on a couch and preparing to kill himself in a convoluted version of Russian Roulette. It's played out in silence, and the humor is derived from the way the guy goes about everything, such as when he puts a pillow to the side of his head so that he won't mess up the upholstery when he blows his brains out.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The movie ends with the protagonists lying in the dirt, presumably dying. This is itself a Shout-Out to the original Bolivian Army Ending, as Parker and Longbaugh are metafictional counterparts to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with the pair on their backs, having just gotten the shit kicked out of them. The film ends with the pair on their backs, having just gotten the shit shot out of them.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Deliberately averted. The characters are frequently shown reloading, except for one exception, where Parker blows more than twenty rounds from an IMI Galil chambered in 7.62x51 NATO during the final act of the movie.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Defied. Parker and Longbaugh demand $15 million in mixed small bills, clearly anticipating a briefcase of money. Jeffers yells at them, "Do you know how much that'll weigh? Try a couple thousand pounds!" Even in hundreds, the ransom comes in three giant dufflebags. The director notes that in reality, it would be even more.
  • Chase Scene: Noteworthy in that this one is a car chase at walking speed.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Sarah Silverman's cameo. Her character is named Raving Bitch.
  • Death Seeker: One of the hitmen is introduced sitting alone at home playing Russian Roulette. With six revolvers.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Longbauh pretty much admits as much to Sarno when the two meet at the cafe:
    Joe Sarno: So, you the brains of this outfit, or is he?
    Longbaugh: Tell ya the truth, I don't think this is a brains kind of operation.
  • Dramatic Ammo Depletion: Averted. Longbaugh raises his handgun at Sarno in the final gunfight. But as he does so, he can clearly see the slide has locked back and he is out of ammo.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When your protagonist's first line of dialogue is yelling at a woman "Somebody shut that cunt's mouth before I walk over there and fuck-start her head", you know right away this is going to be a guy who makes most other Anti-Heroes look positively cuddly.
  • Evil Old Folks: Joe Sarno (played by James Caan), the apparent Mafia enforcer for the Chidducks, but heavily implied to be The Man Behind the Man. He lampshades the trope early on, noting that "the only thing you can assume about a broken down old man is that he's a survivor."
  • Film Noir: A deliberate example. While some of the major action takes place during the day, the film is generally not only lit like film noir, but it also features many of the tropes which define the genre, such as dubiously-moral protagonists, complex plotting, and characters with multiple layers of motivation.
  • Final Speech: Christopher McQuarrie stated in the commentary track that he doesn't like it when a character lives just long enough to make a poignant statement, so he had a man who, in his words, would not shut up before dying. Joe gets up to leave several times, before sitting back down when the guy starts talking again.
  • Flirtatious Smack on the Ass: When Parker and Longbaugh enter the Mexican bordello with guns, the prostitutes all file out, and Longbaugh gives one of them a smack on the rear as she passes by. This was ad-libbed by Benicio del Toro. The actress was reportedly not at all pleased by his improvisation.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Parker jumps into a dry fountain for cover, discovering too late that it's filled with jagged broken beer bottles. It's the most gruesome scene in a film filled with shootings, torture, and forcible surgery. The scene was used prominently in the Mis Aimed Marketing, which made the moment out to be wacky.
  • Hollywood Density: The Briefcase Full of Money was changed to three dufflebags after Benicio Del Toro casually asked during filming how much $15 million in cash would actually weigh; in the commentary, the director acknowledges that in reality, it would be quite a few more.
  • Interrupted Suicide: One of Sarno's old hitmen buddies is in the process of playing Russian Roulette for whatever reason when he's called up by Sarno for one last job.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Jeffers finding cover by placing a gun underneath Dr. Painter's chin and threatening to kill him if Parker and Longbaugh don't put down their guns in the final act.
    • Jeffers and his partner deciding the best way to handle the confrontation is to leave Robin and the Doctor for dead. This gives the audience permission to root for our morally gray protagonists.
    • While they deserved it, Sarno deliberately crippling Parker and Longbough and leaving them to die.
  • Indy Ploy: Before the final shootout, Parker and Longbaugh agree that "a plan is just a list of things that don't happen."
  • Law of Inverse Recoil — One of the few really noticeable firearm gaffes in the film is when Longbaugh fires a fully automatic burst through a wall. The bullet holes appear in a perfectly straight horizontal line across the wall.
  • Low-Speed Chase: During the kidnap, there's a car chase where the vehicles are moving so slowly, those driving are actually pushing the vehicles along with their feet.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Every goddamn time." Blink and you'll miss the first one, though.
  • Meaningful Name: The main characters use the aliases of Parker and Longbaugh.
  • Mexican Stand Off: Parker and Longbaugh attempt one when kidnapping Robin. It doesn't work the way they expect it to.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers for the film presented it as an offbeat comedy, mostly by taking scenes out of context. The actual movie has maybe two humorous scenes, and one of them is very Black Comedy.
  • New Old West: The film overall is an homage to Sam Peckinpah-style westerns. The main characters are morally gray gunfighters codenamed for famous western bankrobbers, and the action is concluded by going South of the Border for a big shootout.
  • Noodle Incident: "What happened in Baltimore," Dr. Painter's shame and the reason why he's forced into this mess. It's implied it was a botched delivery or surgery.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Averted. This is a rare example of a movie that features main characters who are criminals that actually use proper holsters for their handguns. Longbaugh and Parker both use Galco Royal Guard holsters for Inside-the-Waistband carry.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Parker giving half of his sandwich to Robin, after a bout of her being in pain.
    • Parker and Longbaugh later playing cards with Robin.
    • Obecks shows Robin that his finger is off the trigger to assure her that he's bluffing about shooting her. When he pulls her to safety, he whispers, "You're okay."
  • Police Are Useless: The police show up for the big shoot-out in America only after Parker and Longbuagh have fled. We don't even see them. We just hear their sirens and the two bodyguards raising their hands in surrender. In Mexico, only two federales show up throughout the whole story, and they're gunned down. The director does note, however, that at least they're not portrayed as corrupt.
  • Pregnant Hostage: Taken hostage because she's pregnant with a mobster's child.
  • Rage Quit: Parker and Longbaugh realize that they're going to lose the bar brawl because they're outnumbered, so instead of trying to win, they steal their opponent's victory by decking his girlfriend. This is based on actual advice given by one of the director's friends, who suggested exactly this tactic when a fight seemed imminent in Real Life.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Parker and Longbaugh, in that order. Parker is moody, yells and screams a lot, and is generally unstable. Longbaugh doesn't say much and is generally aloof.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Averted. At one point, Longbaugh is firing a pump-action shotgun and it suffers a stovepipe malfunction. He simply takes a moment to clear the jam and resumes firing.
  • The Reveal: Several:
    • The baby is not the Chidducks'. It was Robin and Painter's, at the behest of Painter, after the attempts at fertilization were unsuccessful.
    • Dr. Painter is Mr. Chidduck's son.
    • Jeffers is in a relationship with Mrs. Chidduck, and impregnated her. Remember that part of the reason the plot was kicked off was because Mrs. Chidduck supposedly didn't want all the hassle and trouble of being pregnant.
    • This one is hard to catch, but it turns out that Joe Sarno is Robin's father, making his motivation a whole lot more personal that it seems at first.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Joe and his team all seem to carry snub nosed revolvers during the final shootout.
  • Russian Roulette: a variation with one round in each of six revolvers, which are then picked at random from a pillowcase. It's implied that the man playing is going to work his way through all six revolvers, one by one.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Somewhat - Parker and Longbaugh are dying and did not get the money, but the baby is not the Chidducks', and it turns out that Mrs. Chidduck is carrying Jeffers' baby.
  • Shoot the Hostage: Longbaugh is using Robin as a Human Shield, and Parker is standing behind her bodyguards with Guns Akimbo, but they're surprised when her bodyguards don't put down their weapons.
    Parker: Put the guns down. I'm going to count to three... (Dramatic Gun Cock by bodyguards) WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING? YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE PROTECTING HER! (bodyguards point their guns at Robin's pregnant belly)
    Robin: Walk away. Just walk away. They don't care about dying, just losing!
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: In a reversal of the above scene, Jeffers uses Painter as a Human Shield against Parker and Longbaugh. Painter breaks the Mexican Standoff by drawing a gun from his doctor's bag and killing Jeffers.
  • Shout-Out: The names and uncertain fates of the protagonists are references to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There's even a line saying, "Everyone will assume they made off to Bolivia."
  • Shown Their Work: Considering that the director's brother was a Navy SEAL whom he brought on as a technical adviser, the film has lavish attention paid to the accuracy of firearm usage and tactics, and is often compared favorably to Michael Mann's Heat. The famously nitpicky Internet Movie Firearms Database points out many excellent examples of gun usage, including Longbaugh clearing a the stovepipe jam on his shotgun, Jeffers firing his handgun without flinching and using his shotgun left-handed when appropriate, Sarno using the ejector on his revolver and Obecks using the decocker on his H&K.
  • Smug Snake:
    • Jeffers, (played by Taye Diggs) the self-assured and callous one of Mr. Chidduck's security team, who pulls stunts like threatening to kill Robyn, leaving her for dead (this is the woman he's supposed to protect), and even trying to use Dr. Painter as a human shield.
    • Raving Bitch bitchily raves at Parker and Longbaugh with the supreme confidence of someone who knows she won't have to fight her own battle, which makes it all the more hilarious when Parker unexpectedly takes the fight to her.
  • South of the Border: About half of the film takes place in Mexico, where Parker and Longbaugh flee to lay low with their hostage. The filmmakers apparently chose to do this so the amount of large-scale gunfights without much police interaction doesn't strain credulity.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: Parker and Longbaugh at the sperm bank. Longbaugh gives, "I've never killed a man," as one of his qualifications to donate. Parker sees fit to start ranting about homosexuality in modern culture.
    "Because nobody brings up SEX WITH DEAD PEOPLE! " "You should."
  • Unorthodox Reload: Used several times by both Parker and Longbaugh, though done realistically depending on the context. Special mention goes to Parker withdrawing his 1911's magazine with his teeth.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Raving Bitch smugly threatens Parker and Longbaugh with an asskicking from her boyfriend and the crowd gathering around them. Knowing they're about to get their asses kicked anyway, Parker hauls off and punches her right in the face.