With more time on your hands as you hunker down to avoid getting sick, it is natural to want to not only keep up on your training but also take in a show … or three. In that spirit, here are half a dozen movies for those with an interest in firearms. Some are a lot newer than others, and some take place a lot more recently than others, but all have lessons for the defensive shooter and played important roles in shaping American cinema.
THE WAY OF THE GUN (R, 2000)
This modern Western starring Benecio del Toro, Ryan Phillippe, James Caan and Juliette Lewis has the distinction of being the only movie with more than a few gunshots I’ve ever seen that accounts for every cartridge. Every bullet every character fires lands somewhere, and every reload happens exactly when it would in real life. It is a tough watch — this is neither a family film nor for those with weak stomachs — but it was a watershed moment in the bridging of the silly, uninformed gun-handling most 20th-century filmmakers foisted on audiences to the far more realistic fare of today.
QUOTABLE MOMENT: “The only thing you can assume about a broken-down old man is that he’s a survivor.”
THE SHOOTIST (PG, 1976)
In his final role, John Wayne portrays the other side of the characters for whom he was so famous: the Wild West gunfighter who is surprised to realize he will not be dying young. This performance transcends the classic “Duke” persona and delivers a portrait of 58-year-old J.B. Books, the “most celebrated shootist extant,” trying to navigate personal bad news and the dawn of the 20th century. Plenty of Wayne’s friends put in strong performances, from James Stewart to Lauren Bacall to Ron Howard in a very non-Richie-Cunningham turn.
QUOTABLE MOMENT: “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”
THE PROFESSIONALS (PG-13, 1966)
Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Woody Strode, Robert Ryan … what more needs to be said? This isn’t just a classic because of its cast though. I find it so fascinating because it is a traditional Western plot unfolding in what I consider to be one of the most interesting periods of American history: a time when a man who’d worn a Colt Single Action Army while fighting in the Indian Wars might find himself galloping horseback through an arroyo wearing a 1911 and taking fire from a Lewis machine gun. As the Old West gave way to the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, everything was changing, both north and south of our border with Mexico. This one gives it the Hollywood treatment.
QUOTABLE MOMENT: “You’re gonna have to get over this nasty habit of always losing your pants. It’s not dignified.”
HEAT (R, 1995)
Like The Way of the Gun, Michael Mann’s tale of an LAPD detective (Al Pacino) pursuing a bank-robbing career criminal (Robert DeNiro) across mid-‘90s Los Angeles changed the way actors handled firearms in films. How effective were the technical advisors and instructors who helped the actors move and shoot like they knew what they were doing? Unfortunately, the film’s iconic action scenes were later used as a “training reel” for two real-life monsters whose failed hit on a Bank of America branch would come to be known in law enforcement circles as “The Battle of North Hollywood.”
QUOTABLE MOMENT: “It’s like you said. All I am is what I’m going after.”
UNFORGIVEN (R, 1992)
Clint Eastwood wore the same boots in this Academy Award winner as he wore during his performances as “Rowdy Yates” on TV’s Rawhide, functionally bookending his Western acting career. The story of reformed outlaw William Munny returning to a life of crime is not about gunslingers or treasure or justice but rather violence — and how ill-prepared for it some truly are. Gene Hackman is terrifying as a local sheriff who seems to be “the law” in name only, and Morgan Freeman delivers one of the most humorous gun-related lines in cinema history amidst a film that is gripping, raw, all too realistic and anything but funny.
QUOTABLE MOMENT: “Mr. Beauchamp, I was in the Blue Bottle Saloon in Wichita on the night that English Bob killed Corky Corcoran, and I didn’t see you there.”
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (R, 2005)
This Cohen Brothers treatment of a Cormack McCarthy novel is a Neo-Western in the same vein as The Way of the Gun. It follows Llewelyn Moss — a Texas Vietnam veteran who, while antelope hunting, finds a briefcase filled with millions of dollars — and the avalanche of consequences his involvement with that money sets off. Tommy Lee Jones is probably at his best in this film as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, an aging, third-generation lawman trying to get his head around the kind of crime he sees in 1980 South Texas. And Javier Bardem is absolutely blood-chilling as coin-flipping hitman Anton Chigurh.
QUOTABLE MOMENT: “You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waitin’ on YOU. That’s vanity.”
TV BONUS: THE LAID-UP EDITION
If you’re going to be spending a whole lot of time in bed or on the couch, here are three shows that are worth a binge for the firearms-inclined:
THE SHIELD (2002 – 2008, 88 EPISODES)
This serial is based on the true story of the “CRASH” (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) unit of the LAPD’s Rampart Division and the downfall of several officers involved in crimes ranging from drug trafficking to murder. It originally aired on FX, so it’s more PG-13 than R. And it delves into what can make good people who entered a noble profession for all the right reasons step off that good, noble path.
NOTABLE CAMEOS: Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Anderson
POLICE SQUAD! (1982, 6 EPISODES)
This short-lived series was brought to you by David Zucker, Jim Abrams and Jerry Zucker, the men responsible for such ground-breaking genre spoofs Airplane! and The Naked Gun. It quickly got canceled because TV execs hated that the viewers actually had to watch it in order to get the jokes. Most importantly, it is the premier appearance of iconic American lawman Sergeant Frank Drebin, Leslie Nielsen’s signature role (at least as far as I’m concerned).
NOTABLE CAMEOS: Tommy Lasorda, Robert Goulet, Florence Henderson
RENO 911! (2003 – 2009, 88 EPISODES)
Anyone who’s worked in law enforcement understands that “the cops” will almost never get to be the heroes in any comedy, and that is certainly sometimes the case here. But what sets Reno apart from everything else is that no other show or film has ever captured just how bizarre it can be to work a patrol shift as a law enforcement officer. From an irate brothel patron demanding an explanation for why there are no “ALL EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS” signs in the restroom to a street criminal inquiring what would “hypothetically” happen were he and his wheelbarrow to have “hypothetically” been involved in an armed robbery, the cast and directors make this a little more like a documentary than they probably intended.
NOTABLE CAMEOS: Jeff Foxworthy, Tracey Walter, Keegan-Michael Key