This is our second entry in The Film Experience's long-running series Hit Me With Your Best Shot, in which the film blog masses choose their favorite shot from selected movies.
First, a confession. One of us had not seen this film prior to watching it for this series. You can safely bet his name starts with "N" and ends with "athan." So maybe it's no surprise the images that remain burned in our retinas after one viewing are the images designed by the filmmakers to do just that. The lingering shots. The shots that challenge the viewer to look away while also inviting her to look closer.
Second, a note of caution. If you, like one of us a few days ago, have yet to see this film, you should probably stop reading here. Seventeen-year-old spoilers ahead!
Our first runner up:
At this point in the film the stakes begin rising exponentially. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) has just been shot by Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), and the camera locks Vincennes in its gaze, almost daring him to blink an eye, to show a sign of life. The audience has some experience with lingering shots by this point, so there's a meta feel to the image that gives us a chance to consider Kevin Spacey as an actor playing a part, and playing dead. The result is a complete loss of power for Vincennes as a character. Not only is he dying in front of us as a human and as a storyteller's idea, but we hear Smith's voice pronouncing his death in voiceover, removing any doubt that he's taken his last breath.
And our favorite shot:
Earlier in the film, the birth of Shotgun Ed reveals a confident directorial eye. A gun fires, an elevator door opens, and Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is splattered with blood. "Look at him," the audience is told. "No, really look at him." We expect to see what Exley sees, what his weapon has wrought, and a lesser movie would show us. But the carnage is the sideshow.
We ask, what does his face say about his mind, and about the emotions dancing inside? Does he know more now, about himself and his unrelenting desire to get ahead?
We ask, uneasily, how long can this shot go on? And does this disturb us more than the dead body at his feet?