Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best shoot outs of the decade...

I'm not a fan of John Singleton's Four Brothers. I think it's a mean and ugly movie that lionizes vigilante murder, with four foster brothers committing wholesale slaughter to avenge their pacifistic foster-mother without seeing the irony of their actions. But the film does contain a second-act climax that is easily one of the two most impressive gun battle of the 2000s. It's wonderfully staged, hair-trigger intense, and frighteningly real, both in the outcome and the acting of the participants. Unlike most action movie gun fights, the heroes of Four Brothers are absolutely terrified the entire time because, like most of us, they've never been in a shoot-out before. Their expressions of panic, confusion, and white-hot fear escalate a top-notch action scene into a thoroughly compelling dramatic moment. Along with the blistering second-act climax of Shaft, I'd argue that no American filmmaker crafts street-level gun battles as well as Mr. Singleton.

Yes, Kyle in the comments section below was right. I completely forgot about the 2003 climax of Open Range. Kevin Costner's Open Range is arguably the best western of the last ten years. It also contains a fifteen-minute action climax that is truly one of the best western gun battles in cinema history. Long, sprawling, and expertly staged, this action scene also generates plenty of suspense due to the sheer amount of 'good guys' and innocent bystanders in peril at all times. We don't know if the movie is going to have a happy ending or a downer climax, so every moment is tense as our heros and their friends are in constant jeopardy. I still love the gunfight in Four Brothers (itself a remake of John Wayne's The Sons of Katie Elder), but I must concede that Open Range has a superior shoot-out. As for my neglecting to mention it, I can only blame amnesia.

Two others that deserve mention, if only because the decade was so lacking in epic shoot-outs (blame Columbine I suppose):

The International - The movie is a confusing muddle and this scene lacks any real emotional impact, but it's an impressive display of action editing in an otherwise low-key political thriller.

Way of the Gun - The actual gunplay isn't all that impressive by itself, but there are pathos galore at the end of this underrated crime drama. But more interesting is the opening action scene, which subverts action cliche by A) having the entire shoot-out take place offscreen with only the noises and screams being heard and B) having our antiheroes murder several innocent bystanders and allowing the camera to linger on their corpses and their grieving relatives for dramatic effect.

Scott Mendelson


R.L. Shaffer said...

I'm partial to the elaborate 20-minute shootout at the Guggenheim in the middle of "The International." Also a film I didn't care for, but damn that action spectacle was dazzling.

Kyle Leaman said...

Your post about "shootout" made me go back in my database and do some research. I agree that this is one fantastic shootout (B+ is what I rate the sequence), I would have to include the shootout in 'The International' as Shaffer mentioned as well as the final shootout from 'Open Range' (which is hands down the best staged shootout in a western) in front of 'Four Brothers'.
Looking back at all the sequences I logged, I'm actually pretty shocked that there really weren't that many good 'shootouts' from the 2000s. Gun battles just didn't make much of a register this decade (perhaps outside of Mann's films). The absence of John Woo in the action genre is much missed

Scott Mendelson said...

Gah, I completely forgot about Open Range. Probably the best western of the decade, and (yes, I must concede) probably the best gun battle of the last ten years. Maybe I'll amend that to 'best modern-day shoot out'. Thanks for the reminder.



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