'By the Gun': Film Review

By the Gun Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Mirabelle Pictures

By the Gun Still - H 2014

It sleeps with the fishes

James Mottern visits some mean streets

Formerly titled God Only Knows, James Mottern's By the Gun might just as well have been rechristened By the Book. It deploys crime move cliches so predictably that viewers will likely echo one character's complaint: "You watched the first half of Goodfellas too many times." With the exception of supporting players Harvey Keitel and Toby Jones, the actors look like they're impersonating someone else as well; even after it slips through theaters to video (next month's release date is already slated), it will have trouble attracting attention.

Mottern and screenwriter Emilio Mauro certainly take it seriously, though: Time and again, boilerplate scenes are stretched out and directed as if they're dramatic centerpieces. Rarely has a street hood's attempt to charm a barmaid or a kingpin's harassment of underlings felt this ponderous.

Ben Barnes, who chews a toothpick like it means something, plays Nick, the target of that aforementioned Goodfellas jab, and it's true: He does want very, very badly to be Ray Liotta's Henry Hill. He wants to please his capo (Keitel) so badly that he'll even go apologize to sleazoid crook Tony (Ritchie Coster, gobbling scenery with every De Niro mannerism he knows) for offenses he had nothing to do with. This obeisance leads him to Tony's daughter Ali (Leighton Meester), who has no truck with Dad or his kind, and to the inevitable romance that will have Nick reconsidering the mob life just as he finally earns his place in it.

The puffed-up solemnity of Nick's initiation scene is almost comical in its evocation of "our thing," but Keitel commands "omerta" like a pro. One wonders if the actor will apply that code of silence to this dud when it's time to update his CV.

Production company: Artina Films
Cast: Ben Barnes, Harvey Keitel, Toby Jones, Leighton Meester, Slaine, Ritchie Coster, Kenny Wormald, Tully Banta-Cain
Director: James Mottern
Screenwriter: Emilio Mauro
Producers: Matthew E. Chausse, Emilio Mauro, Doug G. Herman
Executive producers: Myles Nestel, Ruzanna Kegeyan, Kevin Frakes, Raj Brinder Singh, Philippe Chausse
Director of photography: Jimmy Lindsey
Production designer: Jennifer Gerbino
Costume designer: Honah Lee Milne
Editor: Banner Gwin
Music: Nathan Whitehead
Casting directors: Suzanne Smith, Jessica Kelly, Carolyn Pickman

Rated R, 109 minutes