“When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”
These eight words, spoken by Eli Wallach in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” portray the essence of self-determination of all great film gun battles. Protagonists in the midst of a firefight pursue one goal – the elimination of all enemies with as much precision and creativity as possible. Save the pithy one-liners for after all the baddies bite the dust.
But when a new movie as brazenly named as “Shoot ‘Em Up” comes around, one must ask: What are the exact criteria for a superior shoot-out in film? Is it measured by the sheer volume of rounds fired and public property turned into Swiss cheese, a la the bank robbery in “Heat,” people and spent shell casings flipping through the air in slow motion, bullet ballets like “The Matrix” and John Woo’s “Hard Boiled”? Where does parody fit in? Well, snap on your body armor and shove five bullets in the clip, because this Write Stuff just got real. Here are five important, yet often underrated, gunfights that you should set your sights on.
Number five is the execution scene in “Bonnie and Clyde.” Very few countdowns mention this classic gangsters-in-love story as shoot-out worthy, but it literally changed the way movies portrayed gun violence, and it’s a damn good film to boot. It was the first film to use squibs, those little effects that simulate bloody bullet holes, and the lovers’ fateful massacre in their car remains legendary to this day. The only scene that comes close to its legacy is Sonny Corleone getting blasted on the Long Island causeway in “The Godfather.”
Number four is the scene where cops storm the apartment in “Léon: The Professional.” Jean Reno pulls out all the stops as a professional hitman named Léon. The masterful nature of this scene comes from the simple creativity he uses to take down waves of cops in his tiny apartment building. He hangs from the ceiling, disguises himself, and uses smoke to hide his position. When the SWAT hits the fan, it pays to be prepared. Lesson learned.
The shootout in Bolivia in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” takes the number three spot. The bloody climax of this movie shines and surprises because of the hilarious, sarcastic rapport between Paul Newman and Robert Redford, which breaks up and enhances the action. Even with a large part of the Bolivian army bearing down on them, they banter in between each felled body, “Is that what you call giving cover?” Butch asks while Sundance replies, “Is that what you call running?”
Number two goes to the shootout at the Mexican brothel in “Way of the Gun.” No self-respecting gunfight connoisseur could leave this off his or her list. Probably the only modern-day Spaghetti Western, the final scenes provide a realistic and fluidly filmed sequence with enough shattering gunshots to make your ears bleed. Throw in a notorious shotgun blast to the groin and a gag-inducing jump onto broken bottles and you get a cult classic.
And the number one shoot-out scene of all time goes to the unlikely hero, “Grosse Pointe Blank,” and specifically, the scene in which Martin Blank takes on an entire squad of bad guys by his lonesome. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes, John Cusack actually can be a bit of a badass. This shoot-out garners the top “underrated” honor for its genius melding of both typical action and romantic-comedy climaxes: Cusack’s Martin Blank professes undying love to his high school sweetheart (Minnie Driver) while he blasts bad guys and even clocks one with a television. If nothing else, this is a brilliant moment because it entertains viewers and simultaneously reminds them that most movie battles are wholly ridiculous.
So, whether you’re an action junkie, a film buff or just someone who appreciates the perfect combo of fine filmmaking, witty one-liners and adrenaline-inducing action, make sure you keep these shoot-outs in mind when trolling for the perfect movie pick. Next time you are at Emerald Video, take aim on these suckers and say, “Time to check you out,” or something tough like that. Kaboom!