This list started with John Wick (the Red Circle) at #5, and since then I've listed The Wild Bunch (finale) at #4, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (finale) at #3, and Heat (downtown L.A.) at #2. Now, it's time to discuss my choice for the top spot on this list, a cult classic that is near and dear to my heart.
Top 5 Movie Shootouts: #1) The Way of the Gun (finale)
To say that I greatly enjoy The Way of the Gun would be a bit of an understatement. If I were to list my favorite movies, it may just crack that Top 5, and it would surely be in my Top 10. While there are many things I enjoy about the picture, the exciting and yet incredibly grim shootout that brings it to a close has to be considered its strongest asset. As soon as I decided to put this list together, I knew that I couldn't put anything else at the very top. To do otherwise would be disingenuous, and those who know me well will tell you that I do my best to keep it real.
While the director of The Way of the Gun, Christopher McQuarrie, isn't as much of a household name as he probably should be, critics and audiences have been much kinder to his recent work with Tom Cruise than they were to his offbeat directorial debut. This outing came about after his script for The Usual Suspects earned him broad acclaim, and I'm not sure that a quirky yet downbeat shoot 'em up served with a healthy dose of basic criminal philosophy is what anyone expected for his first feature film. In truth, when I watched it during its theatrical run in 2000, the final product varied greatly from my expectations. However, since I had a blast with the picture, I never held that against it.
Like most of the films to make this Top 5, this one combines quality direction with some terrific acting. McQuarrie got the best performance of Ryan Phillippe's life out of him in the role of Parker, a tough guy with a penchant for mouthing off, while the one and only Benecio Del Toro is sublime as his icy counterpart, Longbaugh. These are not likable characters, and the big gunfight that they are steadily marching toward throughout the film doesn't provide them with a likable outcome. Oh yeah, and the weary but unwavering "bag men" who our leads square off against in this blood-soaked finale are led by none other than James Caan.
Whether the conclusion is likable or not, it is most definitely a fitting way to close out this particular film, with the riveting shootout standing as a damn-near perfect metaphor for the film as a whole. Parker and Longbaugh are both savvy and good, and we may not like the code they live by, but we have to admire them a bit for their efforts. Unfortunately, when they make their big play, it becomes obvious that they're just not good enough. Fortunately, their code allows them to perish under these circumstances with their honor intact. Hell, they went for it all and gave it their very best--and they almost pulled it off. Like the saying goes, there's no shame in trying . . .
The cinematography is a wonderful throwback to the somber hues and the brilliant splashes of blood that made the work of directors like Leone and Peckinpah so impressive to behold. In a way, my preference for these legends (and the inclusion of some of their best work on this list) may help to explain my fondness for this gritty sleeper. The choreography is also excellent, with McQuarrie's brother (a former Navy Seal) giving the proceedings a serious boost in the way of technical prowess. The gun protocol and combat tactics on display here are just as important to the overall effectiveness of the showdown as the direction and the acting. Seriously, the final shootout in The Way of the Gun probably features more reloads than you're apt to see if you go all in for a marathon of The Cannon Group's greatest hits, and Parker and Longbaugh could have put together one hell of a clinic for properly clearing a room.
It's all a bit somber and a bit gory, and it is also quite nihilistic, but for my money, there is no finer shootout in the history of the cinema than the gloomy but painstakingly authentic* conclusion to The Way of the Gun.
*There is one gag during the big gunfight at the end where the film abandons all of the realism it has worked so hard to present and clearly lampoons a typical action film's disregard for such considerations, and this knowing wink is yet another reason I love this movie so much.
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Well, there you have it. One recent hit, three indisputable masterpieces, and one cult classic to rule them all. If you're a fellow cinephile and you too enjoy the occasional movie shootout, do share your thoughts.