Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Way of the Gun

The Way of the Gun posterThe Way of the Gun is a 2000 film from Christopher McQuarrie, director of The Usual Suspects. It begins with the introduction of our two protagonists, let's call them "Parker" (Ryan Phillippe) and "Longbaugh" (Benicio Del Toro), like the real names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They are a criminal duo, looking to make a buck in whatever situation they encounter, stealing their way through life. While at a sperm donation facility trying to make some money, they overhear a telephone conversation concerning a $1 million payment to the surrogate mother of a rich man's unborn child. Their interest is piqued, and they go to the fertility clinic they heard named in the phone call, planning to kidnap the surrogate mother for ransom. Unbeknownst to them, the parents of the unborn child are Hal Chidduck, a crooked millionaire, and his young trophy wife. The surrogate, Robin, is carefully protected by a team of bodyguards whose leaders are Jeffers and Obecks, two cold-blooded associates of Chidduck's. As Robin and her bodyguards are leaving the pregnancy clinic, Parker and Longbaugh attempt to kidnap her, but this proves difficult and results in a shootout. Jeffers tells Robin to go inside and up the elevator, as his priority is protecting the Chidduck's baby at all costs. She begins to do so, but then suddenly determinedly walks out the doors where the shootout is taking place, risking her life. Parker and Longbaugh manage to kill all Robin's bodyguards and snatch Robin, stuffing her into their car and driving off. Jeffers and Obecks have survived the shootout and follow the kidnappers in their car. The following car chase proves futile for Jeffers and Obecks, who are arrested by the police as they pursue the fleeing kidnappers. These scenes show the well-honed skills of Parker and Longbaugh in the art of reckless violence.

As the fugitives head south for Mexico, Jeffers and Obecks are bailed out of jail by Joe Sarno (James Caan), a seasoned operative and close friend of Chidduck's, a man who does all the dirty work necessary to take care of Chidduck's business. Sarno begins to coordinate the rescue of Robin, to whom it seems he is personally attached. Meanwhile, the fugitives are with Robin at a truck stop just before the border; as they rest, Robin starts to suffer nausea and pain, causing the kidnappers to call her gynecologist Allen Painter and order him to confidentially come to the truck stop to treat her. Allen Painter arrives and, at gunpoint, determines that Robin's sickness comes from dehydration and that she should be fine. When he returns from the examination, he heads straight for Chidduck's house, and it is revealed that Painter is Mr. Chidduck's son. At this point, Painter's phone rings and Longbaugh is at the other end, demanding a $15 million ransom for Robin and the baby. Chidduck is enraged because the payment of this ransom will lead a money trail back to the people he does business with, dangerous people who will avenge themselves by killing Chidduck and his family if their business is discovered. He sends Sarno as a "bag man" to try to cut a deal with the kidnappers, who are now at a Mexican roadside motel with Robin. Sarno offers Longbaugh $1 million if he surrenders Robin and walks away, but Longbaugh refuses and returns to the hotel room where Parker and Robin are playing cards. Here, Robin admits that her initial agreement to have the Chidduck's baby because she needed the money has given way to a feeling of maternal possessiveness of the baby. Meanwhile, Jeffers and Obecks are at the Chidducks' house planning a way that they can keep the money by killing everyone and safely returning Robin to the Chidducks while pretending that the ransom payment has gone smoothly. Here, it is also revealed that Jeffers is having an affair with Chidduck's young wife. The time comes for the ransom to be paid, and Jeffers, Obecks, and Painter drive down to the motel; Sarno drives down separately with $15 million in duffel bags. At the motel, Parker is having second thoughts about the kidnapping and tries to convince Longbaugh to walk away, giving Robin the opportunity to barricade herself inside the hotel room with a shotgun, shouting at them to leave. Robin manages to call the police from the room, and when their sirens approach, Parker and Longbaugh escape into the hills. Two Mexican police officers arrive, followed by a car carrying Jeffers, Obecks, and Painter. Painter and the bodyguards try to convince Robin to leave with them, but she is hesitant, causing the Mexicans to draw their guns and make everyone lie down on the ground. Suddenly, Parker and Longbaugh start shooting from a nearby hilltop, resulting in a brutal shootout that kills the two Mexican officers and wounds Obecks. Painter and Jeffers drag Robin into their car and drive south, leaving Obecks behind. The kidnappers run down to the motel and pick up Obecks, taking him into the hills and torturing him until he reveals Jeffers' destination.

The destination is a secluded Mexican brothel, where Robin is confined to a seedy room with Dr. Painter. Robin is in severe pain and bleeding heavily because the placenta has torn away from the uterine wall, and Painter realizes that he must perform a Caesarian section to save the child. At this point, Robin reveals that the child is not the Chidducks', but hers and Dr. Painter's; the baby was conceived because the in vitro fertilization did not take and she was desperate for the money. During the bloody and non-sterile operation, the heavily-armed Parker and Longbaugh invade the brothel and search for Robin, exchanging shots with Jeffers as well as a Sarno and his henchmen, who have also infiltrated the brothel. When the two kidnappers enter the room where Robin is, Jeffers threatens to kill Painter and the baby to stop them from shooting, but Painter shoots Jeffers in the throat with a hidden gun. Now Parker wants to kidnap Robin again, but Longbaugh refuses, saying "She's had enough". Robin is sedated and covered in blood, struggling to survive as Dr. Painter digs his hands into her belly, trying to get the baby out. Outside, Sarno and his men have stacked the $15 million in the brothel's courtyard and await to ambush the kidnappers. As Parker and Longbaugh emerge from the building, there is a violent shootout in which they kill all of Sarno's men except Sarno, who shoots both kidnappers in the legs, maiming them to the point of immobility. He then calls an ambulance, which arrives just as the cries of a baby are heard. Painter and Robin emerge with the paramedics, a newborn baby in Robin's arms. It is implied that Robin is Sarno's daughter. The ambulance takes Robin, Sarno, and Painter with the $15 million away, leaving Parker and Longbaugh dying in the dust. The final scene shows Chidduck's wife, days later and miles away, telling Chidduck that she is pregnant.

Mexico for Parker and Longbaugh is a place to which they can escape, collect their thoughts, and get ready for the money transfer. The ransom payment must occur in a neutral place, and a seedy Mexican motel seems just right, a place where people are unconcerned with their business. It is not, however, a place where they are safe from Chidduck's men; indeed, it seems the Mexican border is a porous, penetrable line through which the men pass at will and without difficulty. The same reckless violence and lawlessness exists on both sides of the border, with no difference between the truck stop north of the border and the motel south of the border. Both places are seedy, dusty, and surrounded by desert. After the shootout in the motel parking lot, a group of Mexican men who were sitting in the bar stand silently outside, observing the scene. They do not get involved, not even to help the screaming, pregnant Robin. When the Americans leave, they turn around, poker-faced, and re-enter the bar. The brothel where the final violent events occur is a bewildering place. It seems deserted and quiet, a dead place; inside there are rooms full of prostitutes, but they make little noise. It seems that the protagonists are the only people there throughout all the action, reinforcing the notion that Mexico is a place of neutrality, where the Mexicans stay out of whatever violent business the Americans choose to negotiate there.

The theme of moral ambiguity is prominent in the film, with no character evoking true sympathy. Everyone is generally bad, but shows evidence of goodness at some points in the film. The evil millionaire Hal Chidduck is still excited to be a father and will do anything to save his unborn child; his vacuous, heartless blonde wife shows a maternal instinct in her desire to have a child. The bodyguards Obecks and Jeffers are just doing their jobs. Sarno is just doing his job as well, but he cares deeply for Robin and the child and makes several merciful and good decisions throughout the film, leading him to save the day and call an ambulance. Painter is a weak man who has worked for his crooked father, but he saves Robin and her baby's lives. Robin lies about her pregnancy to make $1 million, but she cares deeply for her baby's life and is primarily a victim throughout the film. Parker and Longbaugh show mercy and kindness to Robin while she is in their possession, as well as abandoning their efforts to kidnap her in her condition at the end. The Mexicans in the film are also morally ambiguous. They are bystanders, watching indifferently as people kill each other. They are also policemen, who try to save Robin from the dangerous men who pursue her, and lose their lives doing so. They are prostitutes, disinterested in the violence that surrounds them, but they are also ambulance drivers who come and make order of the chaos. The Mexican border is just a line, dividing no one. People are neither good nor evil on both sides of the border, and national lines have no effect on morality.

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