Yesterday, I started things off with John Wick (the Red Circle) at #5, and while that was a recent gem I am going all the way back to 1969 for my next selection.
Top 5 Movie Shootouts: #4) The Wild Bunch (finale)
When you take legendary director Sam Peckinpah's knack for turning violence and machismo into a ballet of bullets and bloodshed, it should come as no surprise that one of his movies made it onto this list. Additionally, while many of his pictures contain riveting gunfights, I think that this grand finale is Sam's greatest achievement. Honestly, I consider the grim conclusion to The Wild Bunch to be among the best endings ever, and this rousing shootout where four men challenge an entire army is surely worthy of the #4 spot here.
The biggest attribute that this particular shootout boasts aside from Peckinpah in the director's chair is the amazing cast. William Holden was a true leading man, and this scene allows him to march into battle with Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Warren Oates at his side. This rugged band of outlaws is not comprised of heroes, yet the final reel of this classic western finds the gang taking a valiant stand that will cost them their lives. They do this because they value loyalty more than gold, and the scene where they march toward their inevitable demise perfectly sets the stage for the carnage to come.
The violence that ensues is bold, stirring, and incredibly gruesome. Peckinpah shot some great action bits during his lengthy career, but nothing quite like this. The cinematography is stellar, the effects are terrific, and the performances elevate this orgy of bloodshed into the realm of classic cinema. It is all a bit crude, but what else should we expect from The Wild Bunch?
So brazen is this gory battle that it teeters on the brink of absurdity, but the harsh themes and the spectacular craftsmanship give it enough resonance to remain potent. In many ways, this explosive firefight is difficult to classify, as it is clearly exciting and perversely entertaining while it is also gritty and nihilistic to such an extent that you may feel a little dirty after watching it. I find it to be one of the most incredible climaxes ever filmed, and it is a perfect way to wrap up this tale of hard men who have become obsolete and have little to live for aside from their value to one another. In fairness, The Wild Bunch may warrant a higher spot on this Top 5, but I had to make some difficult decisions when I put this one together.
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Tomorrow, we turn the clock back another 3 years to 1966 to discuss the next shootout to make the cut. In the meantime, while The Wild Bunch may be Peckinpah's best motion picture, you can check out my Short Attention Span Review of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia to learn more about my favorite film from this visionary director.