[Warning: Spoilers Ahead for ‘2 Guns’]
2 Guns is, in many ways, a throwback film. It’s a throwback to the films of Sam Peckinpah, it’s a throwback to the ’80s buddy cop comedy, it has some shades of film noir, and so on. It’s also an adaptation of a little known comic book of the same name by Steven Grant.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg play Bobby Trench and Marcus Stigman – two undercover agents (DEA and NCIS, respectively) completely unaware of each other’s undercover status – who get embroiled in a war between a drug kingpin (Edward James Olmos), an amoral CIA agent (Bill Paxton), a corrupt navy officer (James Marsden), and all their minions. Then there’s Paula Patton’s character, also a DEA agent and the (ex?) love interest to Denzel’s character, who’s sort of playing all the sides of this war against one another.Recently, Screen Rant attended a press conference and heard from director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband), writer Blake Masters (Law and Order: LA), and the cast of 2 Guns – including Washington, Wahlberg, Paxton, and Patton – about the film’s characters, its many cinematic influences, and the politics of making a film about the drug war.
Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington talked about working with each other for the first time:
Mark: “Well, we’ve known each other for a while. I think what surprised me was how willing Denzel was to just try anything. Because we wanted to add some humor [to ‘2 Guns’] and kind of shake it up a bit and combine comedic elements with the dramatic aspect of the movie.”
Denzel: “Especially coming off of ‘Flight,’ I was looking to do something […] more fun. So when I read the script and […] I heard that Mark was involved, I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I could be safe.’ Because I knew Mark was not just funny, but he has a warmth and a heart about him that I’ve loved and … I watched ‘Ted‘ the other night. [Laughter.] That’s a sick movie. How’d you do that fight scene? That was crazy!”
Mark: “That was embarrassing.”
Denzel: “But you were willing! You got spanked and everything. So all of that – I was like, ‘Okay, I want to be a part of [this sort of thing].’ I wasn’t ready to be spanked yet – not right out of the gate. But he really helped free me up, you know, to go for it, [to not] worry about being silly or being too – whatever.”
There’s a scene about three-fourths of the way through the film where Denzel and Mark captured by Edward James Olmos’ drug lord character and are hung upside down in a pit with a bull. As they’re being interrogated by Olmos, the bull continually charges at their heads and they have to pull themselves up to avoid being gored.
Mark and Denzel talked about that scene and the difficulties of shooting it upside down:
Mark: “Well, I thought it was no big deal being hung upside down. [Then] all the blood’s rushing to your head [and] it’s like, it was not fun. [Denzel] actually wanted to go up at the last second and I was just like, ‘Oh, let’s just go up now.’ And then of course, I started complaining quite a few minutes before he started complaining. It’s not a fun position to be in. But I think it’s a really cool scene, it’s really different, you haven’t seen it before.
Denzel: “The bull enjoyed the scene.”
Mark: “[Denzel] kept saying, ‘The bull doesn’t give a ****. He doesn’t know we’re making the movie.’ “
What appealed to Denzel and Mark about working on 2 Guns?
Denzel: “For me, we could have been mailmen, we could have been – whatever it was, it was the opportunity to work with Mark. Without being cliche, we’re buddies. It’s a buddy movie. So it was a chance to do that and have fun. I mean, I didn’t do months of DEA research, let’s just put it that way.”
Mark: “I did.”
Denzel: “I watched ‘DEA Detroit,’ a [reality TV] series. That was my in-depth research.”
Mark: “I was attached to the movie first, and it was always about who is the other guy. It’s about the two guys. [Like Denzel said], no matter what they’re doing. You look at ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ they’re running from something that you never really saw. But with these guys, it’s like … usually they’ll take the comedy guy, the really […] out there comedy guy and then the very straight guy and put them together. We didn’t want to do that. I felt like you had to have two really formidable opponents and to earn that camaraderie, to earn that trust in one another. And that was really the movie.”
The movie does benefit quite a bit from that camaraderie and back and forth between Mark and Denzel. And even though Mark said he didn’t want a “comedy guy” and a “straight guy” set-up, it’s pretty apparent that Mark is the comedy guy in the movie and Denzel is the straight guy. While Denzel isn’t humorless, his humor in the film tends to be dry, and Mark is basically his regular wacky self. Regardless, it works.
Did they improv any of their scenes?
Denzel: “We went for it.”
Mark: “Yeah, there was a lot [of improv].”
Denzel: “Kicking the hat, stuffing the gun in the guy’s crotch.”
Mark: “Yeah, we just – you know, I’d worked with Baltasar before, so he was coming to the movie with me, kind of doing my thing. Improvisation can always make scenes better as long as it pertains to the moment in the movie. [A]s long as it kind of makes sense with the story and the scene … we played. And just played and played. [Sometimes Denzel would] just look at me and say, ‘Did you really just say that?’ ”
Denzel: That’s why I said, for me, it was new territory. So by improvising, something might come out that might be good. And it’s film, so they can cut it if it ain’t.’ [Laughter.]”
Bill Paxton talked about getting into the very creepy, scenery-chewing skin of ‘Earl the CIA agent’:
Bill: “I haven’t seen [the film yet]. I’m afraid to. [My wife] wasn’t crazy about [Earl’s] mustache. When I read the part, I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ I felt like a kid on Christmas day who’s opening a present he’s been hoping to get for a long time. [Before the movie, Baltasar and I] met, had a lunch, and I showed up … I thought, ‘Oh, God, I don’t look like this guy,’ so I went to a barbershop and cut my hair. I had started to grow the mustache. I showed up in a complete western suit and everything.”
Baltasar: “I thought he was wacko!”
Bill: “It was [a hard character to leave behind when the cameras stopped rolling]. The accent is one of those things – you start doing that Louisiana accent and it sounds like, just … [starts affecting accent] honey coming out of your mouth. […] I think this is the part that [Baltasar] would have liked to play. […] And I could tell that he was kind of living a little vicariously through me. But it’s a tough thing to kick, [the accent]. Because I – I’m from Texas originally, and I have a drawl, but I had a lot more fun with [this] accent. I was kind of aping some of Tennessee Williams later interviews that I would watch on YouTube. [Affects accent again.] ‘Hart Crane was my favorite author.’ “
Bill Paxton’s character, Earl, is certainly one of the highlights of the film. As he said, he basically puts on this really thick Tennessee Williams drawl throughout and – in a completely polite and cordial way – acts like a totally slimy sociopath. And he does it all really, really well. It’s the sort of performance that makes you want to see more of Bill Paxton, who has been far too absent in major movies over the past decade (or at least ones that let him get weird, a la 2 Guns).
Paula Patton talked about how her husband, R&B singer-songwriter Robin Thicke, felt about her being naked and straddling Denzel Washington in the movie:
Paula: “He will find out about it on Monday at the premiere. [Laughter.] No, uh, the day before we were going to shoot this scene, I was thinking about it and – these are people that have been together before and they’re having a conversation and may have just … made love and it just seemed really phony to me to have a shirt on. So I just kind of sprung it on Baltazar. I just said, ‘No, I’m not going to be wearing a top.’ And I asked Robin before and I said to him, ‘It doesn’t feel natural.’ And he [said], ‘Go for it, babe. Absolutely.’ We don’t really get hung up about those kinds of things. Straddling is a different story. [Laughter.] But once I decided to take my shirt off, Denzel’s like, ‘I’m going to take my shirt off, too.’ ”
Bill Paxton: “I was going to take my shirt off and everyone said, ‘Take it easy, pal.’ ”
Baltasar: “It’s not given, especially not here in America – in Europe [nudity is] a little less of a problem.”
Bill: “[Sarcastic.] What are you saying about our country? That we’re still in a post-Victorian, oppressive society, that we’re very provincial – oh, gee, I didn’t say that. [Laughter.]”
Baltasar: “Anyway, so it was great. [The nudity] gave it that little bit more of an adult tone.”
Writer Blake Masters and director Baltasar Kormákur talked about their approach to the (comic book) source material:
Blake: “This all started when the graphic novel came to me and I instantly realized that [it] was actually pulling from old movies that I love. If you’ve ever seen ‘Charlie Varrick,’ Steven Grant [the writer of the ‘2 Guns’ graphic novel] obviously was in love with [that film]. And I’ve always been in love with movies like that, ‘Getaway,’ and pretty much the whole Sam Peckinpah oeuvre.
“So I realized [what was] in the graphic novel [was] the spine of a great plot, and then it really was a matter of figuring out how the characters fit in […] and then finding the voices for those characters. So it was actually a pretty seamless process. […] Adam Siegel, one of the producers, said to me after I handed in my script, ‘I didn’t think the plot worked this well in the graphic novel,’ and I said, ‘No, it works great. It’s perfect.’ It was like somebody gave me a lattice on which to […] decorate. So Steven Grant did a terrific job. And then [after I handed the script] off to [Baltasar], they took it to a whole other level.”
Baltasar: “When I came to it, they had been working for a while. The tone was already there. I thought, ‘This is a great opportunity to do something that has a lightness to it and character and is not just guns and explosions.’ I went back to the source material to look at it again and [the script] was actually very loyal to it [and we even] put some things back in. As Blake said, it was about finding the tone between those two guys and then, of course, cast [other people] that would complement and challenge them.
Baltasar on working with Mark Wahlberg again (after Contraband):
Baltasar: “Mark and I had a great relationship on ‘Contraband’ and it was a natural process to go to another movie together. [It] made the whole process easier for me to have someone I knew and I [trusted for working] with someone like Denzel [who can be] quite a challenge. He will challenge you, director or actor, you know – ‘Why do you want to do that?’ You’ve got to bring your A-game, you’ve got to be ready. And I think having Mark in that situation was a life saver for me.”
Blake Masters talked about the complexities of 2 Guns:
Blake: “[‘2 Guns’] was always conceived as [a] modern day [film], but within it, it was also an ode to those early ’70s … they were action movies for their day, even though now there’s almost no action in them comparatively. So I liberally homaged Sam Peckinpah. I mean, Mark shooting the heads off the chickens, that’s ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kidd.’ Earl’s [Bill Paxton’s character] original inspiration is Joe Don Baker in ‘Charlie Varrick.’ ‘The Getaway.’ All these films took place at the border. And I was sort of fascinated by the border and it was already there in the [‘2 Guns’] graphic novel, so I sort of embraced it.
“When I write characters, be [they] Earl the C.I.A. fixer or Edward Olmos’ character or Mark’s character or Denzel’s character, they have to have a point of view about what it is to be on the border in America in the drug trade. So everybody had a very specific take, a very different take. For Mark and Denzel, Mark is – there’s a code, there’s what you do and what you don’t do, and Denzel’s code is you do whatever it takes. And it’s the conflict of those two codes that creates 1) drama and 2) humor. But I did it also for the bad guys. Well, technically bad guys. I wouldn’t call them bad guys, because in my head, they’re not. To me, Earl has a very specific point of view – ‘I enforce the authority of the people above me.’ It was about his loyalty to the power structure.
“As for [Olmos’] character, to me that was the most interesting character, because I wanted a guy who wasn’t a drug lord with gold chains and Bentleys. I wanted a guy who viewed himself as the President of Mexico. A man who said, ‘I’m a proud Mexican man and I’m proud of my country and I see the hegemony with which the United States looks at Mexico and it pisses me off.’ That made that character so much more interesting. It made the scene between Bill [Paxton] and [Edward James Olmos] just pop. Because they each had very specific points of view on what it meant to be who they were in this Gordian Knot of the border drug war.”
SPOILER ALERT! – BIG SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!
And where does Paula Patton’s character come in?
Blake: “Paula’s character is the victim of the endless war. It’s somebody who says, ‘**** it. I’ve sacrificed my life to something. I’m fighting an avalanche with a teaspoon.’ And at a certain point you get burned out and you say, ‘**** it, I’m just going to take what’s mine.’ Paula’s character wasn’t an evil character. Paula’s character was just somebody who was worn out. Everybody was getting theirs but her, so … it wasn’t that she was bad. When we were doing all the rewrites heading into production, that was the thing that everybody wanted to make sure 100% – was that her character wasn’t a femme fatale. That she was somebody who had a real, logical, justifiable reason for why she was doing this. [Baltasar] hammered the **** out of me on it. And Mark Platt hammered the **** of me on it.
“And I think we really came down to a place where they could then [go] to set, communicate, and build with Paula a character who was a full, three-dimensional human being who had a reason for what she did beyond just, ‘I’m a b*****’ – which, to me, was the most boring character in the world. She created a real human being out of it. And that was what this whole process and everybody wanted to do with all the characters – Paula’s character, James [Marsden’s] character, [Edward James Olmos’] character. We wanted three-dimensional human beings.”
While the sentiment here with regard to Paula’s character is nice and all, I’d argue there’s more development for her in the above paragraph than there was in the entire running time of the film. She shows up, she gets naked, she betrays Denzel and Mark, and then (SERIOUSLY, SPOILER ALERT!) she dies. Much of Masters’ commentary about her exhaustion in the drug war and her begrudging decision to take what’s hers has no counterpart in the film. Her character is entirely defined by her “romantic” dependence on men – Denzel and one of the villains, James Marsden’s character.
In fact, she basically comes off as the definition of a femme fatale – she’s greedy and she uses her sex appeal to manipulate men against one another – only minus the fortitude and backbone of the very best femme fatales (Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, and Laura, to name a few).
Still, there are certainly things about the film that are interesting, entertaining, and do work, not the least of which is 1) the chemistry between Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg and 2) Paxton’s character. But are these things shiny enough to garner a solid opening weekend at the box office amid ghosts, superheroes, and animated bad guys turned good guys? We’ll find out soon.
2 Guns hits theaters this Friday, August 2nd, 2013.
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.