Mark Reviews Movies

2 Guns

2 GUNS

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, James Marsden, Fred Ward 

MPAA Rating: R (for violence throughout, language and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 8/2/13


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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 2, 2013

Forty-three million dollars is more than enough money to make people reconsider what lines they believe they wouldn't cross for money.  For some perspective, this amount of cash fills up the entire trunk and most of the seating of a 1974 muscle car, so that's a pretty tangible picture (The car is quite nice, too). It helps that all of the people who want the money in 2 Guns don't have any moral scruples to keep them from crossing any lines of basic humanity.

Those folks are a who's who of corruption. There's the leader of Mexican drug cartel who has his enemies decapitated (His goons leave the head in a bag that casually sits on a chair). There's a sadistic CIA operative who takes bribes from drug kingpins like the aforementioned one to buy his turning a blind eye to their illegal dealings. There's a group of rogue officers from the Office of Naval Intelligence plotting to rob the bank where they suspect the drug dealer holds his millions and keep the money for themselves, and at least one agent in the Drug Enforcement Administration is working with those officers to help cover up their tracks.

With this many crooked people after the same money, it's only a matter of time before those conflicting parties meet up in a standoff to settle accounts, and it's a shock, really, that a film this skeptical of people in power even thinks to give us characters who are relatively clean. Somebody needs to play the villains against each other, though.

The two men for that job are Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington), an undercover DEA agent, and Marcus Stigman (Mark Wahlberg), an undercover petty officer with ONI. Both are on the same beat of attempting to gather evidence against Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), a ruthless drug lord who seems untouchable. Trench has been assigned to get the man; Stigman has been assigned to get his money.

The hook here is that neither knows the other is undercover. Each of them believes the other guy is a common criminal with plans to buy cocaine and rob the head honcho's money respectively.

The deception doesn't last too long, but it leads to an interesting dynamic. When they could be aligned, they are working against each other, and they can't help but be opposed to each other when they realize that they're partners against forces working separately but at least tangentially united against them. They have the most important reason to trust each other—that being that everyone else is out to kill them—but cannot quite bring themselves to do so.

In addition to Papi, there's Stigman's commanding officer Quince (James Marsden), who wants Trench out of the way on a permanent basis after the bank robbery is complete and is not above killing Stigman or making sure the fake story he put in Stigman's file—one that turns him into a fugitive for murder—sticks. There's Deb (Paula Patton), Trench's handler and sometimes lover, who says she was there with backup to arrest Stigman after the robbery but whom Trench never saw.

Above them all, though, is Earl (Bill Paxton), a creepy cowboy with a Southern drawl and a propensity for torture—improvised using thumbtacks stuck into notecards and playing that old game of chance with a partially loaded revolver—and murder. He also happens to be with the CIA. See, the $43 million belongs to Earl and his likeminded operatives, who believe that there's a hefty payday to be had by extorting drug cartels for sizeable chunks of their profits in exchange for immunity. Neither Trench nor Stigman is aware of this inconvenient fact, and soon enough, the two are on the run from being killed for a robbery that was seen by both of them as part of a greater good or arrested for crimes they didn't commit.

The screenplay by Blake Masters (based on the comic books series by Steven Grant) is convoluted but necessarily so. The tangled web of relationships between each of the opposing forces is never clear (i.e., who knows whom and in what way), but it hardly matters. The point is a simple one: The system is corrupt, and there's no way to fight it but with dishonesty (Stigman comes up with a plan to sneak on to a naval base and report the criminal activity to an admiral played by Fred Ward, but he's only met with fingers-in-the-ears politicking).

Lest the film sound like a serious treatise on the subject, it is not. This is a rough and violent film but one that observes its nasty players with amused detachment. The contrasting but complementary performances by Washington and Wahlberg, as well as the interplay between them, are the key to that tone. Washington plays the partner of intense severity—a man who's been "out on a limb" for too long, as his boss (Robert John Burke) puts it. There's also a twinkle of rebelliousness in eyes, such as the way he eyes Deb as she signals that they should meet in a motel or how he comes to the quick conclusion that the best way to escape a building is to blow it up and sneak out in the chaos. Wahlberg is like a grown kid, overly excited at the prospect of having a partner—even one he doesn't completely trust—and winking at almost every woman he encounters.

The two bicker and begrudgingly bond in a natural way that belies the inherently forced way the screenplay demands that they do. As drolly cynical as 2 Guns is, it's this very basic sense of chemistry between the leads that really bolsters the film.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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