Rated R - Running Time: 1:59 - Released 9/8/00

I have never been thrilled by the work of actor Ryan Phillippe, having witnessed his appalling turns in such bad movies as Cruel Intentions and I Know What You Did Last Summer. While Phillippe is probably the weakest link in The Way Of The Gun, he is leagues better here than I have ever seen him. Perhaps it is the overall quality of the film and the expertise of his writer/director and his many talented co-stars that bouys him up to their level. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won the Best Screenplay Oscar for 1995's The Usual Suspects, the film is tense, gritty, and extremely violent, with first-time director McQuarrie clearly emulating the style of such edgy filmmakers as Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese.

The story revolves around a pregnant woman named Robin (Juliette Lewis), who is acting as a surrogate mother for wealthy couple Hale and Francesca Chidduck (Scott Wilson and Kristin Lehman). Apparently, the couple is perfectly capable of producing their own child, but the spoiled Francesca is unwilling to do so, and they are planning to pay Robin $1 million to have their baby. As she approaches her due date, her story is overheard by petty criminals Parker (Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro), who decide to kidnap Robin and her precious cargo and hold them for ransom. They cross the Mexican border and hole up in a seedy motel, followed by Robin's two bodyguards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt), Chidduck's vigilante friend Joe Sarno (James Caan), and his buddy Abner (Geoffrey Lewis), all loaded to the teeth and out for blood. Also along is Robin's only friend, Dr. Allen Painter (Dylan Kussman), Chidduck's estranged son, who must perform the delivery under the most harsh circumstances. After some gunplay at the motel, the action culminates at a rundown adobe village where Robin's delivery occurs amid a hail of bullets between several factions. All are interested in the baby and its earning potential, but could not care less about the welfare of the mother (except inasmuch as her health determines that of her unborn infant).

This film is certainly not for the faint of heart, and probably not for any woman currently expecting a child. It's definitely a guy film, with lots of blood and guts, plenty of Mexican standoffs, and a good old fashioned shootout at the end like something you'd see in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (except in this film we're not afforded the luxury of a freezeframe before the bloodshed). But it's extremely well acted and well-shot, and the screenplay is toughly engaging, raising the tension steadily throughout the film. Phillippe and Del Toro are convincing in their roles as a couple of guys with nothing to lose, and their innovative, leaderless collaboration is fascinating to watch. Lewis is as convincing here as she was in Natural Born Killers, once again showing her immense talent as a woman on the edge. And Caan, Diggs, and Katt are also gritty and believable throughout. Joe Kraemer's original music adds a lot to the proceedings, ratcheting up the tension whenever necessary. For a first-time directing effort, The Way Of The Gun offers a tantalizing look at McQuarrie's promising new career. ****½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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