Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movies I hate to love : Man with a Gun (1995)

Man With a Gun. Image and October Films presents an Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short Northwoods Pictures. Released as a feature film in 1995. Based on the novel The Shroud Society by Hugh C. Rae. David Wyles, director; George Blondheim, music; Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik; Jan Kiesser, director of photography. With: Michael Madsen, Jennifer Tilly, Gary Busey, Robert Loggia, Ian Tracey.

Pros: score, acting, settings, action scenes 
Cons: murky script, murkier look

Neo-noir gone awry

Man with a Gun is an offbeat thriller about a hit man hired by a shady real estate developer who moonlights as a mob boss wannabe. The job is to do in the mobster’s blackmailing wife. The twist is the mark just happens to be the assassin’s girlfriend. Also, said girlfriend has a twin sister. As we might expect, things get complicated along the way.

I can’t quite decide whether MWAG is a neglected minor masterpiece or just a glossed up, schlocky noir parody. Not so surprising then that most of the opinions I’ve read have been mixed to the point of polarized. The movie reminded me of Mulholland Falls, made at much the same time and a more polished film, but similarly criticized for being too much surface but not enough substance. MWAG also has overtones of the much more recent tough guy film Parker, also reviewed in these pages. 

Actually the cast is rather good: Madsen seems a natural for the role of proverbial hit man with a conscience. And he does the hardboiled voice-over very effectively, in wearier-than-world-weary manner. Loggia is silken smooth as the aging don and Meg is convincing as extreme opposite good/bad sisters.

But the cast may be most noteworthy for Ian Tracy as a mob strongman. Tracey later went on to a huge career in Canada. The writer knows him mostly through the Canadian TV movies Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence.

Canadian-made and notable for its novel Pacific Northwest locales, MWAG was apparently filmed in Vancouver, BC, but the visuals seem to suggest the story takes place in Seattle or Tacoma. As mentioned the film is a neo-noir, with heavy emphasis on the noirish look: Man with a Gun has a murky, smoky patina which makes most classic noirs seem like a Kansas cornfield at noon in July. Recommended, more or less.

style ***
substance **1/2

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