I’m trying to work on something for a competition at the moment, but I’m struggling to find the suitable levels of inspiration. Sometimes you have to know what you want to say and unfortunately I’m still not sure what I want to say, which is a distinct disadvantage. So here’s a load of crap about movie gunfights until said inspiration squeezes its way under the door and onto my idle lap.
I love a good shoot out. Not keen on horror movie gore at all but give me a load of idiots trying to pop a cap in each others asses (as the saying, apparently, goes) then I’m in heaven. The last 20 minutes of The Wild Bunch constitutes the never to be bettered peak of the CGI-less movie gunfight; a showdown peak that can never be scaled, but here’s 10 times other films have aimed for the moon and fallen amongst the stars. Or something like that. In no order other than numerical:
- The Way Of The Gun. I struggle to find anyone who has seen this sweaty Tex-Mex crime thriller with Benicio Del Toro, James Caan and a splendid supporting cast. It does very well for set pieces and none more so than the final, desperate scenes in, where else, a hacienda whore house. A film that rewards repeat viewings and more proof that Del Toro is the Warren Oates of his generation.
- Open Range. This is where Kevin Costner saw his career and reputation fully restored. A slow, thoughtful, old school western that almost competes with Unforgiven for pathos and feeling. All roads lead to the final gunfight which is furiously delivered and filmed in such a way that it smashes away almost every cliché in the book. Totally worth the wait.
- Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. Of course Peckinpah has a place in this list, he is to gunfights what Elvis was to rock and roll. I almost went for the hotel shoot out at the end of The Getaway but Garcia wins by having 3 great scenes all to its own. The best is a jumpy bullet threesome involving Warren Oates, two gay hitmen and an entire Mexican family, all played out by the side of a road and coated in a haze of dust and melancholy. Only Warren Oates survives. But he gets it in the end, because movies like this aren’t supposed to end well.
- Commando. So ludicrous it’s actually funny once you’ve watched it a few times. Arnie goes to rescue his daughter from a bunch of Latin American clowns but rather than bring one gun and lots of ammo he just brings lots of guns that get thrown away once they’re empty. If you find the idea of him walking around topless through the grounds of a villa calmly mowing down dozens of complete morons then this is for you. I believe it has one of the highest body counts for any film, though I also believe that the next film beats it. Just as Clint always beats Arnie.
- Where Eagles Dare. Richard Burton apparently made this for Liz Taylor’s sons (and presumably the $1,200,000 fee) , who wanted to see him in a boys own action movie. He and Eastwood got on famously, despite Burton being ‘in his cups’ most of the time. And who wouldn’t want to keep on the right side of Eastwood, a near silent American assassin who’s main job description seems to be to kill as many Germans as possible. It is an impeccable war film and the only time Burton and Eastwood starred together. Pity.
- Heat. Heat is a tremendous piece of film making for lots of different reasons. It’s centrepiece is a breathless cops and robbers gun-fest with Val Kilmer winning the cooler than most award. It’s become one of those weekend films that you stumble on a third of the way through, usually just before midnight, and then feel compelled to watch to the end. Which can be tricky because this scene is very loud.
- Sicario. A modern classic already and gripping from start to finish. The brief exchange (in fact all one sided) of gunfire as Josh Brolin and friends try to cross back over the border is made so much better because the build is brilliant: a looming, menacing score and some surgical aerial photography combine to disorientate and further deliver a deep sense of unseen danger ahead. Sicario 2 isn’t bad, but it many ways it doesn’t even come close.
- John Wick. As a film concerning an avenging hitman up against an army of tooled up Russians there is really very little subtlety to this. And yet when Keanu Reeves makes his way through a nightclub his rampage takes on an almost balletic quality. You are never not rooting for him and there is something quite admirable in the way he shoots everyone he tackles a couple of extra times each, just to make sure. John Wick is nothing if not professional.
- Tombstone. Despite becoming something of a cult classic Tombstone actually did OK (no pun intended, but happy to take any complements) at the box office and deserves to be championed at every opportunity. The star of this film is, again, Val Kilmer who makes for a highly quotable and hip Doc Holliday, as well as being as quick as a whippet with his big iron. Every scene with him in is very good and he ends the film with a one on one duel against Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo; and that scene is very, very good indeed.
- The Long Goodbye. I was considering discussing the virtues of the final bloodbath in Stallone’s Rambo update but I’ll go the other way and finish with one shot. Robert Altman’s 70’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel is one of the very coolest films ever. Elliot Gould plays it super genial and almost horizontal but you also know he’s nobody’s fool and this makes the final act both bleak and satisfying at the same time. Not really a gun fight at all, just one gunshot, but beautifully captured. At least I think so.
Right then, back to that competition. Could go either way. Better get ready.