WAY OF THE GUN, THE
April 30th, 2004
Reviewed by Christopher Wehner
Screenwriter Notes: Raised in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, Christopher McQuarrie went to high school with director Bryan Singer. Upon graduating McQuarrie spent a year working in Western Australia before returning to the U.S. to work at a detective agency in New Jersey. It was then that he was approached by friend Bryan Singer to co-write PUBLIC ACCESS which went on to tie for first place for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. Two years later they finished THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and the rest is as they say, history.
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS
Christopher McQuarrie is a legend in Internet screenwriting circles. With no formal training or schooling (only one year of writing class in high school), he succeeded where so many others have failed. But more importantly his script THE USUAL SUSPECTS was raved and talked about on almost every screenwriting site (among others) in 1995. The script was also seen by some as an anti-structuralist victory -- Tarantinos PULP FICTION was of course one as well. The script worked despite numerous flashbacks, supposedly a big no-no. Lets not forget his Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay. All of these things helped to elevate McQuarrie to a God like status among wanna-be screenwriters surfing the Internet abyss.
For the movie fan, THE USUAL SUSPECTS was a wonderfully developed story that delivered suspense and intrigue. The narrative is told in a series of flashbacks being provided by the only suspect, Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey). At first the movie seems to be about a group of "usual suspects" that were rounded up for something they didn't do. But fairly quickly a central question is raised, "who is Keyser Soze?" When we find out who Soze is, the story will reveal its true self. The narrative was told after the fact, Verbal was making it up as he went along.
McQuarries THE WAY OF THE GUN script I'm reading dated August 4, 1999, is more of an action/thriller than THE USUAL SUSPECTS. It also falls inline with a more conventional structure as well. There is no murder mystery involved in this story, and its neatly organized into a nice three-act-structure.
THE WAY OF THE GUN is the story of Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro). Parker is the charmer, the talker, somewhat philosophical; Longbaugh is the meaner of two, quiet, with a very simple view of the world. For Longbaugh there are two kinds of people, those who take the bull by the horns, and those who get the horns. (This is my analogy of saying they have, which I will not reveal).
After their car breaks down the two find themselves stranded in a "Southwestern city." Parker describes it this way: "We have a trunk load of guns, a price on our heads and a fistful of change in the ashtray."
The plot is simple, these guys live life one way, and one WAY only. They know nothing else, care of nothing else, and want nothing else. At that very moment in the story they need some cash flow. As luck would have it, they hear about an affluent family -- the Chidducks -- who are paying a young women (Robin) one million dollars to be a surrogate mother for them. Parker and Longbaugh quickly take action. (Robin is played by Juliette Lewis, should be a nice role for her.) Their plan is simple, kidnap the surrogate mother, then flee to Mexico and demand a ransom. The Chidducks will bring the money and if anything goes wrong, according to Parker, "we kill everyone" What they didnt plan on was the Chidducks deep involvement in organized crime. This develops quickly into a plot point that obviously sends the story in a new direction.
THE WAY OF THE GUN is not a story where the reader is going to find a lot of redeemable qualities in its anti-heroes Parker and Longbaugh, especially early on. But what I like about them is their flare and simple approach to things. I got to dig them for what they are, and how they live their lives. As a reader you have to try and leave personal biases, likes and dislikes aside, which is sometimes hard. But McQuarrie makes it so easy to just enjoy his writing and forget about everything else. He has truly mastered the craft. I liken him to a kind of smart mans Quentin Tarantino. And thats not a knock on Tarantino, I like his work. McQuarries story crafting, style and prose are at such a much higher level than so many writers, including Tarantino. I dont think any of Tarantinos work can touch THE USUAL SUSPECTS in its richness, and of course its blind-siding plot twist -- something rarely achieved by any writer. But their writing styles also remind me a lot the other. In their dialogue and character development, they both are masterful. In an interview I read McQuarrie mentioned a saying he had whenever he submitted his script THE USUAL SUSPECTS to one the numerous studios (most of which passed on it). His saying: "I hope I can fool you." What a great attitude, and that shines in his writing.
McQuarrie weaves two subplots along with the main story, and never compromises the development of these story lines. As a reader I had a couple questions raised in my mind about the interaction of certain characters and what was really going on. This is important, because as a reader and a movie fan I do not want unfinished business in a story no loose strings. McQuarrie does not disappoint. The setup and payoff are there by the end of the story.
There are some great action scenes that should rival any other movie if done well. The script has a great pace. The flow of the story is never broken up by a needless scene. Each scene moves the story forward, as it should.
But most importantly, both of the main characters (Parker and Longbaugh) have clearly developed arcs. Their interaction with the surrogate mother Robin is beautifully accomplished. Character development and how all three play off one another is executed very nicely. In any good story, as in life, something new should be learned, a new perspective gained.
The ending is very exciting and satisfying. The script is solid and did not disappoint. McQuarrie is making his directorial debut with THE WAY OF THE GUN. Filmming has already finished, and test screenings have already been held as early as February 2000. If McQuarrie can pull things off from a directing standpoint the movie should be very cool. Release date for this film is set for September 8, 2000. It also stars Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt and James Caan.