Sunday, August 4, 2013

"2 Guns" loots little known 1970s classic

For pure cinematic entertainment of the action variety you cannot go wrong with “2 Guns.”

In this latest iteration of the buddy flick, Denzel Washington, as an undercover DEA agent, and Mark Wahlberg, as a naval intelligence operative, team up – reluctantly, as the trope demands – against a motley crew of corrupt or compromised government types and a Mexican drug lord with an angus avocation. It is a caper that morphs from a south of the border sting to a heist in Tres Cruces, New Mexico, to a hostage swap and finally to a dos mas Mexican standoff.

Along the way, Bill Paxton reinvents his on-screen persona in the role of a ruthless enforcer tracking stolen millions. Paxton’s loquacious sociopath is played with an unhurried relentlessness. The veteran actor’s gentle drawl uncannily heightens the cold-bloodedness of each spoken threat.

Although Washington mostly mails it in – only occasionally flashing the visceral sincerity that marked his outstanding performances in “Flight” and ‘Training Day,” the actor’s effortless cool is always front and center. Wahlberg on the other hand absolutely delivers in a role tailor-made for his familiar brand of Everyman action hero shtick. Both actors benefit greatly from the hip and quirky dialog in Blake Masters’ screenplay, based on the Boom! Studios graphic novels by Steven Grant, according to

Director Baltasar Kormakur has created a well-paced film. The cinematography by Oliver Wood presents a visual feast. There are details like a single spent brass casing, which subtly heightens suspense as it foreshadows the impending harsh interrogation technique preferred by the enforcer. There are sweeping panoramas like the aerial shot of the footprints illegals make in the virgin sand of the Mexican wasteland, an alea iacta est image that emphasizes life-and-death choices while reflecting on one of the largest political and social issues of the day. It is one of a handful of scenes in this picture where the Icelandic director dares to overlay the more cartoonish aspects of Hollywoodian action with a serious message. The most obvious scene is when Washington's wounded DEA agent gets the drop on a pair of borderland vigilantes, identifying himself with a gun for effect and, for irony, a greeting in Arabic.

Kormakur once claimed he would never sell out to Hollywood by making movies he is not proud of. Having certainly mastered the art of balancing pretty images of orange-flamed explosions with his characters’ snappy braggadocio, Kormakur can be proud of “2 Guns.” He has made a darn good flick, even if the director failed to elicit much of anything new from Denzel.

Who really deserves the writing credit?
However, this is not the first film in which a bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico, was robbed. The plot of "Charlie Varrick" (1973), directed by legend Don Siegel, is set in motion by just such a heist. Interestingly, there are further similarities that go beyond homage.

In "Charlie Varrick" the robbers also make a much bigger haul than they expected and are subsequently pursued by a mob enforcer with pronounced sadistic traits. "2 Guns" even reprises a scene from the movie released 40 years ago, in which the hapless bank manager weeps as he is "advised" that those whose money has been stolen are unlikely to believe in his innocence.

"Charlie Varrick" is based on the John Reese novel "The Looters." How ironic "2 Guns" borrows from a film based on a book by that title. It may be hard to be proud of it after all.

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