[watch] How to do Movie Violence Right (Like Shane Black)


There is certainly no shortage of violence in American movies. In fact, many people make a decent living decrying the amount of violence in American movies. Three or four generations ago, the only way a young man saw war was to enlist; today, by the age of 18, the average young man has seen real wars, fake wars, toy wars, superhero wars, soda wars, STAR WARS – the list goes on. Point is, violence is everywhere in films, but it’s never really the focus.

Think about it. Most often violence is a background element, it’s the effect of something but the effects of itself are rarely given screentime. How many cities have you seen destroyed this summer alone? And how many of those films spent any time whatsoever going over the consequences of those cities being destroyed? I’ll answer for you: hardly any. That’s because violence has become nothing more than a set piece in most contemporary films, which is why there are so many people opposed to it: there’s no real point to the violence other than violence itself.

But there is a better way to make use of violence, one that infers consequences, one that draws attention to the absurdity of violence, one that reveals character and advances the plot in new, interesting, and unexpected ways. This is the subject of the new essay by The Nerdwriter – how to do movie violence right – and for my money he’s picked the best possible person through which to filter his argument: the great and talented Shane Black.

As Nerdwriter notes, every single one of Black’s scripts – THE MONSTER SQUAD, LETHAL WEAPON 1 & 2, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, LAST ACTION HERO, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, KISS KISS BANG BANG, IRON MAN 3, THE NICE GUYS – is riddled with violence, but not the meaningless, violence-for-the-sake-of kind of violence; Martin Riggs’ violent tendencies are owed to his grieving frustration over his wife’s death teamed with his military background, it is a consequence of his life, not a frivolous personality tic, even when portrayed as a frivolous personality tic. Black understands the origins of violence, not just the manifestations, and incorporating one with the other has made for some of the most human action films the genre has ever known.

The Nerdwriter is always good, but this week he’s great. Get eyes on this as soon as possible and for the love of God, watch more Shane Black movies.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist