I’ve been on somewhat of a sabbatical from the daily grind of work over recent weeks and have been spending a lot of my time reading and researching some serious material for a serious piece of work I seriously hope that I actually have the commitment to finish. But seriously, I am by no means shallow, but there comes a time when you need to step away from the ills and injustices of the world and enjoy some of the things you enjoy. I enjoy a good movie and have been fused to my comfortable sofa most evenings indulging in my extensive collection presented through the immaculate reception of big screen Panasonic NeoPro Plasma. So I’ve decided to do one of those ’10 of the Best’ list things… only I couldn’t decide on just ten so I went for a dozen. It must be a pretty universal choice as when I was looking for the YouTube links to include it seems that most of the scenes on my list are on other peoples’ lists too. Worryingly, I also appear to share the same taste as Guns And Ammo!
Any director making an action thriller knows that a good shootout at some point in the film is an absolute must. However, just like car chases, there are hundreds of shootouts in hundreds of movies, but not many remain in the memory for a long time. All too often they are too predictable or too improbable. They can be too long or just so chaotic that your retina-to-brain function no longer retains any of the explosive, wood splintering, glass shattering, blood splattering mayhem that is taking place on screen. It isn’t necessarily all about the action and the stunts. Acting, camera angles and movement, the point in the movie when the shootout happens, what leads up to that point, who is involved, who dies, who doesn’t, the dialogue – or lack of – and how the whole thing rests within the narrative context of the drama all contribute to making a truly memorable shootout. So here is my list of some of the most memorable shootouts in movie history.
Heat – Michael Mann (1995)
Why save the best until last when this scene is so badass. Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Ving Rhames, Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore as the family man (really!) are enough of a screen presence to get you thrilled, but it’s the sheer adrenaline rush of the scene that makes it so damn good. The authentic sound of gunfire as it ricochet’s off concrete and tarmac in the middle of the city gives the scene a sense of realism – like watching a siege unfolding on the news. There’s no superfluous dialogue, no masculine roars, no macro pre-emptive build up to the moment of impact, just a rollercoaster drop into violent chaos. Fast paced, tense, realistic – badass.
The Matrix – The Wachowski Brothers (1999)
You know the one, the lobby shootout. If you’ve seen it then descriptions are redundant. The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon of shootouts – visually stunning, logically ludicrous, Neo and Trinity in long black macs kicking digital ass – pure genius.
The Wild Bunch – Sam Peckinpah (1969)
Back in the 60’s before the likes of John Woo and Quentin Tarantino were doing hard-boiled, ultra-violence in slow-mo with every bullet wound exploding in a shower of bloody claret, gunplay was a little more dramatic and a lot less graphic. When people got shot there was usually a loud crack, somebody would grab their chest and you would perhaps see a patch of blood to indicate they had been hit as they slumped to the floor. Then along came The Wild Bunch and everything changed. Sam Peckinpah’s film changed the western in the same way that twerking changed Hannah Montana. Even 40 years on, the final shootout at the end of The Wild Bunch holds it’s own amongst some of the clinically choreographed, digitally mastered contemporary shootouts of today. Sam Peckinpah, we salute you – a 21 gun salute.
Scarface – Brian DePalma (1983)
“Say hello to my little friend” is the iconic phrase that everyone remembers from Scarface, Brian DePalma’s violent, cocaine-fuelled, gangster epic. Loosely based on the story of Al Capone, Scarface chronicles Tony Montana’s rapid rise from Cuban ‘refugee’ to cocaine kingpin of Miami. Al Pacino puts in an epic performance as the psychotic drug lord who scales the heights of the cocaine business before going out in a memorable blaze of glory after upsetting a Columbian cartel. One huge pile of cocaine, a sweeping white staircase, garish red décor, an angry little man with a very big gun and enough gangster dialogue for a decade of hip hop samples – now that’s a shootout.
The Way Of The Gun – Christopher McQuarrie (2000)
“There’s always free cheese in a mousetrap” – what a line, what a film. Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for his script for The Usual Suspects, so it’s no surprise that his writer/director debut is full of great dialogue. Whilst The Usual Suspects is a great movie, it’s very much a Hollywood movie. From the opening scene to the final shootout, everything about Way Of The Gun oozes originality. It feels like an American movie made by a Korean director. It’s as if McQuarrie wrote the script, then went back and changed all the clichés into something… something completely different. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you stall on this part of the list and go find a copy to watch.
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino (2013)
Tarantino is often criticised for stealing his ‘original’ ideas from other movies. Who cares? Tarantino is to movies what Xibit is to cars – he takes what is predominantly crap and makes it outrageously better. Django is a case in point. However rose-tinted your movie-watching spectacles are, the original Django was no classic. However, once Tarantino pimped that cinematic ride it looked a whole lot better. The penultimate shootout in Django Unchained undeniably gives a big nod to Sam Peckinpah. The slow-mo blood-splattered gunfight between Jamie Foxx’s Django and the henchmen of Leonardo DiCaprio’s sadistic plantation owner Mr. Candy makes the list, not only because it’s one of the goriest shootouts of all time, but because it’s just so satisfying.
The Long Riders – Walter Hill (1980)
Walter Hill is an unashamed Peckinpah contemporary who is best known for films like 48hrs and late 70’s classics The Warriors and The Driver. His trademark style is the violent, hard-boiled, action thriller, often with comedy, always with tough male characters and sharp dialogue (he’s also a prolific screen writer). The Long Riders is one of several contemporary westerns made by Hill, although the western theme runs through all his films. The Long Riders features James and Stacey Keach as the James’, the Carradine brothers as the Youngers and Dennis and Randy Quaid as the Millers in a biopic that tells the story of the rise and fall of the notorious James Gang. The standout scene is when the gang are ambushed in Northfield, Minnesota in 1886 after robbing the local bank. Outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded, the gang are forced to literally shoot their way out on horseback. The carnage is graphically highlighted with a mix of slow-mo shots and pitch-distortion on the sound of each bullet that hits one of the robbers. This is raw, bone-crunching, macho-grimacing, pain-defying, mayhem. The battering the horses take is enough to whiten the knuckles on this ride. Great stuff.
Taxi Driver – Martin Scorcese (1976)
Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, the taxi driver of the title who becomes disturbed by what he sees around him in New York City. Many of us have become familiar with the amazing film work of Martin Scorcese and his visceral depictions of violence, however Taxi Driver remains one his most memorable films. Particularly the scene at the end when Travis Bickle shaves his hair into a Mohawk, arms himself with a revolver and concealed sleeve gun and embarks on the suicidal rescue of Jodie Fosters’ teenage hooker, Iris. More of a massacre than a shootout perhaps, but Scorcese’s attention to detail is in every sound and second of the scene as he graphically pores over every violent action and detail. He even manages to add a vein of black comedy into gore and profanity – and that doesn’t include Harvey Keitel’s red flares.
True Romance – Tony Scott (1993)
How do you take a Tarantino script, change it, make it your own, and still create a classic? Get a slick, shit hot director like Tony Scott to make it. Tony Scott made his name with films like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Enemy Of The State, but True Romance (and perhaps for some, Man On Fire) really is his finest work. They say you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can never make a good film out of a bad script. In Tony Scott’s hands he made a badass film out of a badass script and amongst the many memorable scenes from True Romance, the OTT shootout at the end of the movie between the mafia, the feds and every motherfucker in the room really deserves a place on this list. Energy, energy, energy, slow-mo, pillow exploding madness and just pure energy. A great shootout, a great movie, and a great loss to the filmaking world. RIP Tony Scott.
Reservoir Dogs – Quentin Tarantino (1992)
Tarantino started as he meant to go on with this daringly original [in style] and violent character piece. It’s a simple story about a bank robbery that goes pear-shaped and turns into a blood bath because an undercover cop infiltrates the gang. The final scene is a tense and ultimately bloody standoff between the gang members as Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White tries to defend Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange, who is lay bleeding to death on the floor of their warehouse hideaway. Peppered with the kind of razor sharp, macho dialogue we have come to expect from Tarantino, it’s the brutal yet touching paternal angst of Keitel when he finds out the truth that makes the scene all the more special. It’s not easy watching a hard man cry.
Once Upon A Time in The West – Sergio Leone (1968)
It’s a little strange that of all the shoot out scenes from the Leone westerns to make the list, this one doesn’t feature Clint Eastwood. Three gnarled men wait at a dusty train station and it’s Charles Bronson who takes the lead as the monosyllabic, enigmatic, gun-slinging stranger. As the train pulls away, so begins one of the most unforgettable introductions in the history of cinematic introductions as Bronson appears on the other side of the tracks blowing the haunting strings of Ennio Morricone’s score through his harmonica – boom! Like many of the great shoot outs in Leone’s westerns, it’s all about setting the scene, building the tension for the moment of the draw and nowhere does he do it better than in the opening of this classic western. If less is more then less is best as even within the spartan dialogue of the scene there’s still room for the killer line; as Bronson’s character notices that his would be killers have only brought three horses, one of them laughs and apologises for forgetting the fourth. Bronson’s reply is pure James Bond – “You brought two too many.”
Léon – Luc Besson (1994)
Luc Besson has been prolific throughout his career and made some right stinkers along the way. But Léon has to be one of his all time greats. The touching [dare I say] romance between Jean Reno’s middle-aged, child-like hit man (albeit a lethal child) and Natalie Portman’s precocious little orphan girl was controversial and played down in the American release. However, there’s no love like the paternal love of a your own personal hit man as Leon proceeds to kill an entire SWAT team to protect his little Mathilda – and his potted plant. The score, the action, the subtext, the escape (almost) – sheer awesomeness.