Gun, Wonderland, Croupier reviewed

Ryan Phillippe and Benecio Del Toro star in Way of the Gun.
Ryan Phillippe and Benecio Del Toro star in Way of the Gun.

Way of the Gun
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Ryan Phillippe, Benecio Del Toro, Juliette Lewis, James Caan, and Taye Diggs
Currently playing at Capitol 7 Theatre and the Gardiners Road Cinemas

After the success of The Usual Suspects, writer Christopher McQuarrie has created a much darker film that explores the relationship between masculinity and power.

Way of the Gun, McQuarrie’s directorial debut, is not so much an experiment in storytelling as it is a horrific fantasy, where gun culture, male morals, and pro-life principles are pushed to their extremes.

The world that Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benecio Del Toro) inhabit has no room for logic, only action. They decide to kidnap a surrogate mother when they hear the baby she is carrying belongs to a wealthy couple. They do not pause to think about the feasibility of their actions; they simply react to the situation that has confronted them. “Who’s the brains of the operation?” a hired gun played by James Caan asks Del Toro. “This isn’t really a brains kind of operation,” he replies.

The central character of this film is Robin (Juliette Lewis), the surrogate mother. She is the movie’s only victim, a vessel whose baby is much more important than her body. Themes of reproductive rights play out around her character. Constantly controlling her are men with guns, from the bodyguards assigned to protect her to the kidnappers. Taye Diggs, one of these bodyguards, repeats throughout the film, “My only concern is for the child.”

Way of the Gun is not an exciting movie. McQuarrie is not John Woo. The film lags in some areas, and the story is sacrificed to deliver his message. Though not a disappointing debut, I was yearning for the ingenuity of The Usual Suspects.

— Haig Balian


Wonderland
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring Molly Parker, Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson, and Ian Hart
Currently playing at The Screening Room

Many directors rely heavily on flashy camera tricks, digital animation and techno-flavoured soundtracks to distract audiences from a lack of actual substance. Not so with Michael Winterbottom.

In Wonderland, the critically-acclaimed director of Welcome to Sarajevo deftly combines strong storylines, characters, and camera tricks to produce one of the most astonishing films of the year.

Wonderland follows the intertwining journeys of three sisters and their cohorts in contemporary London over a period of three days.

Molly Parker is particularly captivating as the aptly-named Molly, whose birthing scene brilliantly captures the moving, bloody, joyful and painful nuances of labour.

The characters, all at different stages in their lives, loves, and Londons, search for a way out of their oppressive Wonderland, a crowded city of lights, noise and emptiness.

Though the storylines and characters appear unrelated at first glance, Winterbottom weaves a delicate tapestry that proves to be more rewarding, and less contrived, than P.T. Anderson’s similar-sounding Magnolia.

Much of the film’s magic lies in the seamless relationship between camera work and dramatic content. From shaky camera shots to grainy 1970s documentary-style scenes to sped-up music-video tantrums, the film’s refusal to settle on a single camera style enhances the realism of the scenarios.

Fluid, bleak, and hopeful, Winterbottom forces us in the end to take a look at our own efforts to succeed in, or escape, Wonderland.

— Sabrina Mehra


Croupier
Directed by Mike Hodges
Starring Clive Owen, Alex Kingston, and Gina McKee
Currently playing at the Gardiners Road Cinemas

Few things are as depressing as watching the shifty types that frequent casinos as they shuffle lifelessly from table to slot machine and back.

Croupier, however, directed by Mike Hodges and featuring a spectacular performance by Clive Owen as a dealer in a low-rent London casino, suggests that the relationship between “punters” and “croupiers” (gamblers and dealers) tell us a great deal about life.

Owen is Jack Manfred, a struggling novelist with checkered past and present. His distant father is a liar, a cheater, and a gambler — exactly the type of person that he despises most.

Jack’s life is mundane and his career dismal until a job as a dealer, arranged by his father, exposes him to the twisted casino underworld that Jack believes he, by playing the odds, can manipulate.

The drama develops when Jack allows himself to get involved with the punters and break the strict rules of being a casino employee in order to find grist for a new novel he has in the works.

Besides a refreshing story with a subtle twist ending, the biggest revelation in Croupier is Clive Owen who turns in the performance of the year to date. The angular Brit, who resembles a rougher Jude Law, is the focus of every scene in the movie and you can’t get enough of him. Owen captures Jack in a manner best described as spare; he doesn’t tell you what he thinks, you just know.

At least, you, and he, think they know.

— Dan Rowe

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