“Fifteen million dollars is not money,” says a grizzled veteran of the criminal life. “It’s a motive with a universal adapter on it.”
The tang of that dialogue signals the return of Christopher McQuarrie, whose screenplay for The Usual Suspects created the cult of Keyser Soze and won the unknown writer an Oscar. McQuarrie makes his directing debut with The Way of the Gun, another investigation of the criminal code. Though not destined to be as beloved as The Usual Suspects, this brutal, wickedly funny film is every bit as accomplished a piece of work.
Kelly is a onetime ’90s riot grrrl, now a domesticated new mom and prisoner of suburbia. Who better to play the part than Juliette Lewis, a survivor of such wild-child projects as Natural Born Killers and Strange Days and a veteran musician known for her theatrical caterwauling?
Lewis lends lived-in credibility to the otherwise bogus Kelly & Cal, a stilted indie without a compass. Kelly is new to the neighborhood, shunned by the local ladies (they suggest she consult their website if she’d like to join their social group), and ignored by husband Josh (Josh Hopkins), who’s at the office all day. And so she starts hanging out with local teen Cal (Jonny Weston, from Chasing Mavericks), a paraplegic who makes it clear he’s interested in Kelly’s body as well as her sassy punk-rock attitude.
[originally published in Film Comment Volume 31, Number 5, September/October 1995]
Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 genre-juicing vampire film Near Dark opens close up on a leggy mosquito poised to tap into screen-spanning flesh. Apt epigraph for a film about heartland bloodsuckers; but also your ticket into any of the intensely sensual, romantically nihilistic excursion – The Loveless, Blue Steel, Point Break, and now Strange Days – head-tripped by this dark daughter of Hawks and Hitchcock. Bigelow’s movies gauge psyches and society in extremis, running on empty. Her nomadic protagonists, “riders” of one stripe or another, hooked on whatever “zap” best fuels them, cruise the nervous systems of her often hyperreal “outside” – unspooling ribbons of baked macadam, rain- and neon-slicked streets, granite-gray arches of breaking surf, even brightly surging brainwaves – trying to stay ahead of their own shadows.
Latterday kin to Hawks’s daredevil existentialists, Bigelow folk all hanker after heartstopping action and spectacle, the sort of “speed” that punches life up to top gear and outruns terminal ennui. Hanging out on the edge of the world, emotionally and in the flesh, these are orphans to the bone – loners, outlaws, pariahs. Plugged into jerry-rigged “families” for dangerous shelter, their rage and despair often explode into demonic self-projections.