The shootout scene has been used in many different films over the years, both classic westerns like ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, as well as more modern films, like ‘Kill Bill’. No matter what film it is, the shootout always follows the same basic pattern, using similar shots with similar music, to create that very familiar sequence.
There are two types of shots that are used for a shootout, one of them being a wide shot. A good example to use for this is the finale scene from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. As this scene shows, a shootout always begins with a few wide shots. These shots are long and drawn out, there is little cutting. By staying on each wide shot for longer, time seems to run more slowly and it draws out the sequence. The viewer knows that at some point there will be release (eg. shots being fired) and the longer they are made to wait for it to happen, the more they anticipate it, and so the more the tension builds. This tension is important because it makes the finale all the more epic.
The wide shots are also used to show the surroundings and to set the scene. This provides an opportunity for the director to add in symbolism for what is about to happen, like for example, the cross gravestone from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (pictured above left). The cross stands out from the rest of the graveyard, and is used to suggest a sense of finality and death. Also in Kill Bill during The Bride vs O-ren Ishii, there is a water feature in the foreground (above right image) that is constantly going up and down. This could be suggesting the instability of the situation and emphasizes the idea that at some point it will drop and there will be release.
Close shots are also a very important part of a shootout. They are used after the setting has been established with the wide shots. These are different from the wide shots, because there are fast cuts between each shot and the focus is more or less always alternating between the face or the hands.
Close shots are so effective because the face can convey so much about the character-especially the eyes. The pictures above are from the spaghetti western, ‘For a Few Dollars More’. Just by looking at the squint of an eye or the tilt of a head you can tell who’s good, who’s bad and sometimes you can even tell who is ultimately going to win the shootout. It’s like telling the story before it’s happened. The fast cuts between the close ups seem to be effective in building up the tension, it’s all building up to that one pivotal moment when the suspense is broken.
There is little or no dialogue during shootout scenes, probably because speech is too broken and would ruin the momentum of the scene. Instead, they rely very heavily on the music to convey the tension. The music is very repetitive, with a steady beat, and as it progresses more layers are added to it. This is very evident in this scene from Election, where the music becomes higher and faster, fitting in nicely with the editing. When people are tense or frantic, their breathing and heartbeat become faster, and the aim of the music is to replicate that feeling. When there is release, the music cuts out, because there is no longer any need for suspense.