The mechanics of The Way of the Gun are tolerable enough: Two petty criminals kidnap a pregnant woman and demand a ransom; the situation becomes inexorable and climaxes in a murderous, explosive, bullet-laden, quadruple-crossed grand finale. Bloodied dollar bills, self-applied tourniquets, operatic gunfights, and random, eruptive murders--you've seen the tropes a hundred times; enough to make you numb were you to really connect with them, which is doubtful. This is America, remember; it's all just fashion.
Of course, there is a seductive beauty to it all. The imagery--inexplicably handled by Mike Leigh's cinematographer Dick Pope--is moody and cold, with strong, natural edges and lush, pregnant compositions. The characterizations are hyperbolic but compelling; the dialogue false but excellent; the editing manipulative and energetic. In all, the movie is fine as a ravishing entertainment.
But there is no heart beating inside, and that troubles me. There is a scene, near the end, where Juliette Lewis is screaming and moaning and getting a makeshift C-section from the father of the child--"Doctor" Painter, you may be sure--as Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe run around her, killing people. In the midst of it all, Dr. Painter must remove his hands from the unhappy girl's flayed abdomen to blow bad-guy Taye Digg's head off. This disturbs me. There is no moral code in the world that does not recognize the sacred state of pregnancy. To give birth is to make flesh God's opinion that the world should go on. Except, of course, in Hollywood, where God's opinion may be reduced to a plot device.
I meet McQuarrie in a hotel room to search out his soul. "I saw a lot of video tape on C-sections and things like that in preparation for that scene," he tells me, "though I've never seen a birth." He also mentions how, to enhance the realism of the scene, he threw out the script and re-created it with his actors, relying on their research into childbirth, C-sections, guns and ammo. "I asked [the actor], who played the doctor, 'What's the first thing you're gonna do in delivering this child?' and he said, 'Well, in the script, you had me giving her a spinal before I'm aware that anything is wrong.' And so we talked it over, and we all agreed that the placental abruption was the best way to go..." he explains, lost in fantasy.
McQuarrie is so blasé about his hyperbolic play, so glib about his reasoning, that I slowly come to realize he has no idea what he's done. He talks of how his violence is more realistic than typical Hollywood violence; he explains how he drew the characters to be unlikable but "cool"--and therefore, somehow, less gratuitous and more principled.
At one point, he tells me of his belief that "you have to tell the truth as you see it.... If you're going to shoot a gunfight, it has to be loud and unpleasant, and bloody, and people get killed." I don't ask him if he has been involved in gunfights. I just get depressed. As he talks about the language of cinematic violence, and how his film is considered and ethical, I begin to see how lost he is, like a compassionate SS guard trying to run a more humane concentration camp. I cringe when he tells me that movies are incredibly overrated in their power to affect the way people think, and all I can do is thank God that The Sorrow and the Pity more than makes up for his lost sense of humanity. It is playing this week only at the Egyptian--please go see it.