Nothing goes better together than a great film with a great violent, bloody, meaningful gun-play. A shootout, if filmed with skill, can be the most intense and dramatic few minutes in a movie, the dramatic and cinematic climax. And, while any competent director with a background in action can stage a decent bullet-ridden sequence, it takes visionaries to see the potential for the scenes and create classic moments of cinema.
Here are five shootout scenes that have stood the test of time.
SPOILERS BELOW (For those of you who don’t watch movies apparently…)
5. The Wild Bunch
Sam Peckinpah was a no-nonsense man’s man, and as such, he didn’t shy away from violence. On the contrary, he embraced it, revolutionizing the graphic manner in which it was represented on the screen, and influencing a generation of future filmmakers in the process (Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs gets the second half of its title from Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs).
His 1969 masterpiece The Wild Bunch culminates in a large scale shootout that is a marvel of staging, raising the bar for all others who would film a gunfight.
4. The Killer
John Woo, patron saint of ass-kicking Hong Kong cinema, has directed some of the best action films ever, perhaps none more impressive than 1989’s The Killer, starring international superstar Chow Yun-fat as a skilled hitman with a heart of gold who, after committing “one last job” (that just never works out in these movies, does it?), is betrayed by his Triad employers.
The film culminates in what may be the definitive example of the “sure it’s completely ridiculous, but it looks awesome” approach to filmmaking. Can a clip really hold that many bullets? Is it actually possible to slide backwards on a flat surface? Are Triad assassins really that incompetent? C’mon guys, there are like, three dozen of you and two of them. Shouldn’t be too hard.
Well, a key rule of movies is as follows: if it’s fun to watch, we’ll let anything slide. And damn, is this fun to watch.
Brian De Palma’s loose remake of the classic film of the same name stars Al Pacino as Tony Montana, a character whose larger-than-life attitude epitomizes the concept of the excessive gangster lifestyle. This ain’t the subtle and calculating Michael Corleone, kiddos. Tony Montana is violent, vulgar, and using more cocaine than a 1980s stockbroker.
Of course, all great crime films follow the traditional rise and fall blueprint, with the outlaw’s lifestyle sealing his fate.
True to his defiant soul, when faced with such an inevitable end, Tony Montana refuses to go quietly, unleashing a fury of bullets and explosives on a roomful of men all sent to kill him. Enduring far more physical punishment than any man, even one as high as him, could withstand, and taking shelter behind the fresh corpse of an attacker he has just killed, Montana most certainly doesn’t go out with a whimper.
Is it realistic? No. But then again, this over the top movie doesn’t ever pretend to be.
2. The Matrix
In an age where every other film looks like it was subject to more digital manipulation than a bikini model photo-shoot, it’s easy to forget just how spectacular The Matrix looked upon its initial arrival. Sure, the lackluster sequels have retroactively tarnished our memory of their predecessor, but when we all first watched Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss take out a room full of security guards more than a decade ago, we were all thinking the same thing: “Oh…wow…”
By establishing a world in which the basic laws of physics could be defied if you simply knew they were nothing more than codes in a computer program, and an adolescent boy’s greatest wet-dream came true in the form of room where any gun in existence could be downloaded into your possession, the filmmakers were able to envision and realize a highly-stylized shoot ‘em up sequence the likes of which the movie-going public had never conceived of before.
These days, it’s just another night at the movies, but not too long ago, it was a game-changer.
By now it’s a cliché to call this the best shootout of all time, but the violent climax of Michael Mann’s Los Angeles crime epic is still a remarkably impressive feat of filmmaking. When the LAPD is alerted to a bank robbery in progress, the cops, led by obsessive justice addict Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), corner Neil McCauley (Robert Deniro) and his crew of thieves as they attempt to flee the scene. The result is a massive and chaotic gun fight through the streets of L.A.
Mann is known for his rigorous research standards, conducting extensive interviews with cops and criminals, exploring the inner-workings of a way of life that few civilians will ever truly understand. His insistence on realism is what gives this bravura sequence its appeal; there’s no bullet-time ballet, no badass one-liners, just an honest depiction of what it might look like if a major metropolitan area briefly became a warzone.
It’s an iconic depiction of violence, not just in the crime genre, but in all of cinema, even working its way into the world of video games. Grand Theft Auto IV recently sent it a bloody valentine in the form of a mission modeled heavily on this sequence.
What are some of your favorite shootout scenes?