All the time that Hollywood heroes have been avoiding shooting baddies in the back, Christopher McQuarrie has been making notes. The widow tracking down the killer, the double-crossed bank robber avenging his time in jail, the lone cop walking uninjured from a firefight with a dozen gunmen - all of these tired set-ups have been like a tumour on McQuarrie's brain. Here's his brutal payback - a film where all deaths go unpunished, no one wins and "a plan is just a list of things that don't happen". Free from hip self-referentiality, it's a movie where the script is intelligent but the characters aren't.
Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) and Parker (Ryan Phillippe) think they're calling the shots when they kidnap a pregnant surrogate mother (Lewis) - but it's the opposition they meet that provides the story's real twists and turns. The Chidducks just want their baby and don't care much about the hostage, while their ageing enforcer Sarno (James Caan) finds his old-school approach at odds with the slick professionalism of his young gun bodyguards. McQuarrie's plotting is watertight - everyone has a motive for the way they behave.
If his directing skills are less finely honed - a bit of trimming wouldn't hurt - that's a minor moan. Big credit must go to weapons adviser (and Chris' brother) Doug McQuarrie, whose Navy SEAL training results in a realism not seen since Heat. Performance-wise, Ryan Phillippe's a revelation in a faultless cast, burying his pretty boy looks under a gym-bulked frame and scraggly beard. But it's Caan who really stands out, his veteran bagman radiating quiet menace. You wish that more scripts called for men of his calibre rather than teens with three expressions and firm muscles.
The Way Of The Gun's amoral stance may leave you feeling cold, and it's undeniable that the female characters get a rough ride. Superbly written, meticulously plotted and brilliantly acted as it is, Way Of The Gun is definitely not date-movie material.
For all its hi-tech weaponry and body armour, The Way Of The Gun is more cowboys and injuns that cops and robbers. Only the curious pacing that see-saws between the frantic and the plodding might put off the more attention-deficient viewer.