Unless the lead character in a story is a newborn, the question of how to deal with their backstory regularly (not always) appears. For a movie, how should a filmmaker go about giving us the information we need to know about this individual whom we’re going to follow for an hour or more? With “Die in a Gunfight,” director Collin Schiffli answers the question by providing a voiceover and some animated sequences at the film’s outset. It is a clever way to tell us everything we need to know, instantly drawing the viewer in. It is also better than what follows.
“Die in a Gunfight” is a reworked, modern day, “Romeo and Juliet.” Writers Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari offer us the tale of Ben Gibbon (Diego Boneta) and his once-and-future love, Mary Rathcart (Alexandra Daddario). Scions of two families than have been feuding for more than a century, Ben and Mary had been in love, but their families were against it and did what they could to keep them apart. They are, to coin a phrase, star-crossed lovers. Oh, and Ben, when he is not with Mary, has something of a death wish – through the years he been in hundreds of fights all of which he’s lost.
To make matters more difficult, there’s this horrible guy named Terrence (Justin Chatwin) who is in love with Mary and works for her father. He definitely has designs on Mary, who is uninterested in him, and is happy to go through dear old dad to get to her.
There’s also Mukul (Wade Allain-Marcus) who has some sort of secret pact with Ben. The opening animation suggests the pact’s origins, but it’s unclear if we should put a lot of stock in that.
That’s a lot of plot right there in those paragraphs, but, fortunately it tells you everything you need to know to get started. Yes, there’s also a contract killer, Wayne (Travis Fimmel), and his girlfriend, Barbie (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and they get involved, if only accidentally. They’re fun characters, but definitely secondary individuals in the goings-on.
Stories of star-crossed lovers have, quite obviously, been proffered regularly the truth is that “Die in a Gunfight” doesn’t add anything to the genre in terms of the terms of the plot. Where the movie does better than average is in the telling. Schiffli offers us a highly stylized vision. It’s the clothes and the sets and the camera angles and, yes, that opening animated sequence. The movie is trying to be loud and fun and exciting in how it is unfolding if not in what, precisely, is being unfolded.
More than one moment in the film makes no sense. There is a narrator (Billy Crudup) who sometimes chimes in and offers up a bit of insight, but the thing is that some of the stuff that doesn’t logically work, simply doesn’t matter. Schiffli is able to power through such moments using stylistic flair when the narrative skips the groove.
To this end, Fimmel, Chriqui, and Chatwin all have their performances turned up to 11. The Rathcart parents (played by John Ralston and Michelle Nolden), and the Gibbon parents (Nicola Correia-Damude and Stuart Hughes) are not far behind. That isn’t to say that Boneta and Daddario are low-key by any means—Daddario is a standout—but they both operate closer to the real world than anyone else. Everyone here is distinct in their nuttiness.
Watching “Die in a Gunfight” there is a sense that the team decided that they could either be fascinating on a story level or on a visual one and they chose the latter. That isn’t enough to make the movie a great one, but it is enough to make it watchable. Sometimes that’s enough.
photo credit: Lionsgate