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THBILLER The Way Of The Gun (18) 119 mins 1k * it ‘k

’A modern-day Western where the cell phones don’t work,’ is how Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar- winning script-writer of The Usual Suspects, described his directorial debut, The Way Of The Gun to one of his actors. Various reviews from America dismissed the new film as another slice of post-Tarantino neo- noir, clearly failing to detect beneath its bloody brutality a serious, intelligent purpose.

Parker (Ryan Philippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio del Toro) - the real-life surnames incidentally of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are a couple of drifters, who have given up on trying to eke out an honest living and have embraced ‘the way of the gun' of the title. These career criminals have hatched a poorly-planned scheme to kidnap a heavily pregnant woman, Robin (Juliette Lewis), who is acting as a surrogate mother for the millionaire Chaddick and his manipulative young wife (Scott Wilson and Kristin Lehmann). Chaddick, though, turns out to be a money-laundering tycoon, and dispatches enforcers, in the form of sharply suited bodyguards (Nicky Katt and Taye Diggs) and veteran ’adjudicator' Sarno (James Caan), to retrieve Robin from her captors. As the kidnappers head down into Mexico, and the birth becomes evermore imminent, the stage is set for a fatal showdown . . .

In McQuarrie’s amoral universe, wrong isn't countered by right, deaths aren't necessarily avenged, and innocent bystanders get mown down in gun-fights (as Parker says, ’We don’t come for absolution, we don’t ask to be redeemed'). Gradually the writer-director reveals the ambiguity of his characters’ motivations and the deceptiveness of their personal agendas. Peckinpah appears to be a key influence, not so much stylistically, but in the way McQuarrie uses Mexican settings,

Sentimental view of Midwest life


Beneath its bloody brutality there's serious, intelligent purpose

examines the ethics and codes of (criminal) masculinity and punctures an often leisurely narrative with a handful of violent set-pieces.

Shot by British cinematographer Dick Pope using a washed-out palette of yellows and earthy browns, The Way Of The Gun is filled with crisp one-liners (’A plan is a list of things that never happen’), and inventive touches, such as the Smph, cat-and-mouse car chase, where those involved use their feet as paddles. All the ensemble performances are convincing, with particularly striking contributions from Caan as a quietly authoritative old-timer and Del Toro as the mumbling young desperado. And the final line merely highlights the futility of all the preceding blood-letting.

(Tom Dawson) I General release from Fri 77 Nov.

and she becomes Novalee's mother- figure. Sisterhood is provided by Lexre (Ashley Judd), a woman who is forever getting pregnant by the wrong man and then naming her kids after dessert snacks. Romantic love comes in the form of devoted, long- suffering librarian Forney (James Frain).

This is not what most of us know as reality, but it’s not fake either. Bucket loads of warmth and charm ensure that the simple tale of a girl finding a home touches its audience. The central messages are positive and encouraging ones, telling us that we can find families even if our blood

Where The Heart Is

(12) 119 mins *irt

Get these names for symbolic weight: seventeen-year-old Novalee Nation hasn't got a home to go to, so she spends the last week of her pregnancy living in a Wal-Mart, and it is here that baby Americus is born. Portentiousness aside, Where The Heart Is is something of a Midwestern fairytale with nigh on every one of its characters a walking, talking embodiment of triumph over adversity.

28 THE lIST 16-30 Nov 2000

Novalee (Natalie Portman, looking frighteningly young in a huge pregnant belly) is the innocent, if not Virginal, herome whose loveless, impoverished upbringing has done nothing to sour her soul. She tips up in Oklahoma when a no good boyfriend abandons here there, and after the Wal-Mart period she finds her way into the arms of a surrogate family. The delightful Sister Husband (Stockard Charming) is a born-again Christian who can’t resist making love to her boyfriend on the kitchen table,

relatives are crap, and that, whatever society may think, a teenage mother does deserve her self-respect. In its gentle apolitical way then, Where The Heart ls IS a liberal film. Its love of American ’reJects’ and the contradictions in people give it an unusual quirkiness which is baSically refreshing. It is also extremely sentimental, and a harder look at the lives of abandoned teenage mothers would certainly not have yielded this pretty picture. (Hannah Fries)

I General release from Fri 77 Nov

Film books

Where most film books are how to manuals, My First Movie (Ed Stephen Loweristein, Faber flJ 99 t t t) is a 'how not to gwde to filmmaking Interviewing filmmakers about their first features, Lowenstein gets some brutalh self-deprecating resportses Pedro Almodovar admits that it wasn‘t until his third feature that he became aware of techniQue Neil Jordan describes his filmic know-how on Angel as 'non-existent' Others, however, seem to know more than the hack techniCians Gary Oldman says One cameraman said to him, 'You're crossmg the line there,’ and the veteran actor simply replied, ‘I know what the line is But I want a hard cut For Ang Lee, directing is ’very hands on I’d deCIde the framing and work out the camera moves’ Though the most important attributes required, Lowenstein's book seems to Suggest, are phySical and psychological: stamina and a distinctive sensibility.

Duncan Petrie's book on Scottish cinema, Screening Scotland iBFl £14 99 ii i it t), is at its best rummaging around the archive. There are whole sections here on rare Scottish films, and only an indefatigable researcher like Petrie can do Justice to Scottish cmema’s range and themes. For example, Petrie’s chapter on ’an urban alternative’ covers everything from GraCIe Fields muSical comedies to Michael Powell’s Red Ensign. The chapter on ’the role of teleVi5ion’ meanwhile, brings out the Significance of a t0ugh realist writer like Peter McDougall. This lS a book to put on the shelf next to Scotland On Film, From Limelight To Satellite and Scotland The Movie, and is surely the best of the lot.

The updated edition of The Encyclopedia Of Stage & Film Musicals (Ed. Colin Larkin, Virgin £20 ii i ii ii) is more of a Who’s Who than a film/show guide and is, in a word,

. extenSive. Look up Golddiggers Of

Broadway and you’ll get a full, small type page essay on the history of the backstage mu5ical series. Same deal wrth Bob Fosse, Judy Garland and Michael Nyman. Less criticIsm, more, much more, reference. (Tony McKibbin)

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* t * t * Unmissable

t * 1' iii Very ood

it t * Wort a shot

i * Below average

it You've been warned