[2 August 2013]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Deb (Paula Patton) first appears in 2 Guns with her clothes on. The DEA agent is interrogating a smuggling suspect, her gaze direct, her patience tried, her jacket fringed. Sitting opposite her at the table is Stigman (Mark Wahlberg), who has, in fact, just been over the border in Mexico, arguing with cartel thugs and shooting chickens while waiting for his partner, Bobby “Beans” Trench (Denzel Washington), to make a drug deal Papi (Edward James Olmos). Because you’ve seen how this deal didn’t happen, as you watch Deb roll her eyes at Stig’s clumsy-frat-boyish flirtations, you know what she doesn’t, that he has no drugs, but also wonder at her role here. Why does she assume he has drugs? What does she know that you don’t?
Your questions are answered, more or less, in Deb’s second scene, when she heads into another interrogation room, where Bobby sits with her boss Jessup (Robert John Burke). Here you learn—if you haven’t guessed already—that Bobby is also DEA, that he’s using the hapless Stig as part of an ongoing effort to nail Papi, and that he and Deb have “a thing.” It’s a thing that occasions Deb’s several scenes in her states of undress and also the line that more or less characterizes Bobby: “I meant to love you,” he tells her. Cut from his face, stern, to her face, sad.
That Deb is wearing very little in this scene might be understood as an indication of her vulnerability, or maybe her strength, which is to say, her self-possession in the face of Bobby’s calculating carelessness. But it’s just as easily a sign of her role as the girl in this boys’ fantasy. It hardly matters that Deb might be smart or intuitive or gutsy, that she’s working as hard as any of the guys to get over on all those acronymical agencies that regularly show up in today’s boys’ fantasies, the ones whose operatives lie and cheat for a living. No matter that Deb is in fact one of these operatives, that she is as enmeshed in betrayal and exploitation as the men with whom she shares beds. She’s the girl, which means that her punishment will be special, both a means to demonize the villain who most abuses her and also to humanize the man who most cares for her. What her punishment—or the plot leading up to it—does not do is tell you anything remotely interesting about Deb.
It may be beside the point (of a graphic-novel-based movie about men with lots of guns) to worry about the girl’s part in this fantasy. It is, as they say, what it is. Deb’s screen time is by definition limited, with most given over to car chases and explosions and gunfights, the stuff the boys do. Bobby finds that the guy he thinks is a dupe, Stig, is actually an NCIS plant and that their assignments, seemingly different, are actually the same. They both find that the corruption they’re trying to stop is unstoppable, that self-righteous vengeance is a pretense for more corruption, that the CIA—here represented by the trash-talking Southerner Earl (Bill Paxton), outsized in every way—is still the biggest, baddest dog on every block in the world.
As this not very specific summary suggests, the plot of Baltasar Kormákur’s movie is structured as a series of betrayals and discoveries, with the cool guy Bobby (indicated by his straw hats of every stylish color) and the muscular manchild Stig bonding despite and because of their initial distrust and lies. Stig wants to be considered Bobby’s “people,” but Bobby insists he has no “people.” Still, they come to admire one another’s ingenuity and craft, they compare their skills in sharpshooting and deceiving, and they help each other escape from their respective and joint enemies. They also take a moment or two to share thoughts on the girl (Stig doesn’t like her, Bobby wants to defend her but doesn’t, quite), but more to move along their own plot than to make her matter.
But still, Deb matters, if not for this movie, then for viewers. She poses a too familiar puzzle, and might provoke a series of questions about that very familiarity. Why is it that her simultaneous availability for and simmering resentment of Bobby makes her an instantly identifiable threat, while the aggressively acted-out tensions between Bobby and Stig just as instantly indicate their eventual bonding? How is the pleasure she provides—undressed, wielding a weapon—different from the boys, tussling and kicking and punching? If her typical encounter with Bobby ends with an exchange of stern and sad looks, consider that the boys’ encounters end in bloody injuries and manly smiles: following one extended wrestling match, Stig laughs out loud: “Come on,” he cajoles his best friend, “You gotta admit, that was fun.”
It was and it is, because boys’ fantasies are premised on just such demonstrations of camaraderie, freewheeling beatdowns and rowdy reconciliations. Girls can’t be “people” like boys are “people.” No matter the drama between Bobby and Deb, Stig remains the joyful outsider, happy enough to wink at diner waitresses and boast about his shooting (“When have you ever seen me miss?”), all the while knowing what Deb can never know, that at last Bobby will call him “people.” The camera cuts from Bobby’s face, content, and Stig’s, joyous.