“By The Gun” is about guns, duh. It’s also about organized crime, honor, family, more guns, and angry men shouting at each other in between long, terse silences.
Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian in the “Narnia” films) plays Nick Tortano, a low-level but ambitious hanger-on in the Boston mob. With the help of mentor Jerry (Toby Jones) and best friend George (Slaine), he’s looking to get all the way in with the local boss, Sal (Harvey Keitel), and thinks he has what it takes to be a made man. But reality is a little more slippery than that. Conflict with another boss, Tony Matanzano (Ritchie Coster), along with Nick’s budding relationship with Matazano’s daughter Ali (Leighton Meester), makes Nick question what he really wants, and threatens everyone he cares about.
Barnes is reasonably convincing and charming in his way, and “By The Gun” starts well enough, with an unhurried pace, some ringing smart guy/tough guy dialogue, and a good sense of place, shooting on the streets of Boston and Providence. In one of the film’s best scenes, one that occurs early on, Nick is forced to offer a pride-wounding olive branch apology to the powerful Tony, and a spray-tanning Coster and tight-lipped Barnes spin an enjoyable take on a tired scenario.
But despite some stretches that work in a posturing kind of bluntness, director James Mottern and writer Emilio Mauro can’t keep that up that level of invention until the end credits, and much of “By The Gun” plays as a predictable series of nose-to-nose confrontations, brutal beat-ups, and flinty stare-downs bracketed by high-decibel dialogue.
Keitel does his thing but in an under-imagined role, and I liked Meester as the sunny but realistic mob daughter with unfortunate taste in men. On the credit side, Mottern populates his film with some interesting faces, faces that convince as Boston hard-case types, yet the film can’t find much to do with them in the mechanics of a plot that grows tiresome. That unhurried pace becomes more a liability than a strength.
The Blu-ray of “By The Gun” is presented in 16×9 Widescreen in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Color and contrast look good throughout, and there are options for English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The audio track is an adequate 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. The gunshots and blows to the head with a board aren’t overdone or out of balance with the talk-heavy proceedings.
- a mildly diverting commentary track with director James Mottern, writer Emilio Mauro, and star Ben Barnes.
- a set of deleted scenes that don’t add a whole lot
Some strong performances and punchy dialogue can’t save this one from its sluggish pace and tired Mafia plotline.