By the Gun Blu-ray Review
In a world of wannabes and gangsters, rap songs and movies that glorify ‘the life’ there is always room for a movie that bucks the trend, a story that goes the other way. The new indie BY THE GUN takes the usual coming-of-age into the mafia story and wants to turn it on its ear… but it instead presents a trope-filled genre piece that, nonetheless, actually is a welcome entry into the gangster-film lexicon. This is due primarily to deliberate pacing and the methodical mundanity of the day-to-day interpolated with the violence at the center of the world in which our lead character wishes to exist. It’s the polar opposite of what is normally presented in these flicks, if only the filmmakers had stuck to their guns.
BY THE GUN is the story of Nick Tortano (Ben Barnes), a young poser who has managed to score a low level gig with an organized crime operation in his hometown run by Salvatore Vitaglia (Harvey Keitel) and he finally has a chance to become a made man. But Nick can’t bring himself to close the deal and commit murder so instead he counts on his friend Georgie (Slaine, who broke onto the scene in Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN), just like he always has. The problem is Georgie is the real deal; a violent, stone-cold killer. But he’s also a fatally flawed, deeply loyal friend to Nick who cannot understand his friends difficulties or his love affair with the Vitaglio family and the old school lifestyle.
SLAINE is absolutely incredible in this independent film, perhaps a bit one-note but it’s definitively the right one. Slaine acts circles around the more-experienced Keitel who, quite frankly, appears to be phoning this one in. The surprise of BY THE GUN, however, is relative newcomer Ben Barnes as Nick Tortano. This British talent gives a great performance as a New Englander who, similar to Ray Liotta’s character in GOODFELLAS, grew up imagining himself in the life and idolizing this horrible man. As he becomes more deeply involved with Vitaglio and he realizes what it means to be the man he’s been pretending to be, suddenly he’s in a bad place. Barnes does a truly incredible job of portraying this double life through most of the film.
Sadly it doesn’t carry the movie and BY THE GUN devolves, by the beginning of the third act, into a straight-out guns-blazing action film. If this is where it was leading, I think the audience might be more forgiving, but instead it is the antithesis of the film we are given. Anytime a movie devolves into something like this it feels like a ploy, a cheap trick to try to be cooler than they thought they could be. BY THE GUN is no different. While Ben Barnes, Slaine, and Toby Jones (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER) are chewing on scenery through the first two acts the third leaves nothing to the imagination.
Only one scene, the penultimate, lends any credibility to the whole affair and this is due entirely to the duality of purpose present in the relationship between Barnes’ Nick and Toby Jones. Neither man seems to particularly appreciate what they are set out to do but both approach with the gritty determination of a man possessed. In fact the scene would have set the stage for a phenomenal final act had the writing not taken the road it did, so the audience is left feeling jilted and a little bit betrayed by the final act of an otherwise surprisingly good entry.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.38:1) Video presentation on a movie like BY THE GUN is important but it’s quite as artistically done as the filmmakers would have you believe (see below commentary track). Still, it’s nicely presented on this Blu-ray transfer.
Audio: (English Dolby TrueHD 5.1) BY THE GUN has a really nice mix and the scoring evenly paces the film to bring out all the right notes.
Audio Commentary with director James Mottern, writer/producer Emilio Mauro, and actor Ben Barnes (01:50:12) The filmmakers offer a really nice commentary track that is evenly paced. My only problem with the track is the constant discussion of visual nods and artistic choices that are just too subtle to be noticed or appreciated without the track, making them meaningless for most viewers who tend to avoid commentaries. Still, they got the right mix of actor/filmmaker and they speak lovingly about the process, which makes this commentary worth a listen if you’re a fan.
Deleted Scenes BY THE GUN features a number of deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut of the film. The pacing is intentional, deliberate, and none of these scenes would have helped the final product. Included on the Blu-ray are: I Don’t Like This Bar (00:59), Mani-Pedi (01:50), No Witnesses (00:26), Steak and Cheese (00:40), Would You Go Away With Me? (00:46), The Clean-Up (00:34), I Want You (03:27), and A Blown Mind (01:15).