The shock death of a main character is something that has been used to massive effect in movies throughout the ages. I remember when I was a young one and gasping in astonishment when John Wayne was killed in Mark Rydell’s The Cowboys (1972). John Wayne just does not die at the hands of the bad guys, does he?
Perhaps the greatest example of an iconic, shock death scene was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). After following Janet Leigh’s character for the first half of the movie, Hitchcock throws the rug from underneath us. There is no sinister music or indication of danger leading up to her death other than the twitchy behaviour of Anthony Perkins’s Norman and his worrying relationship with his mother. After the incident we are left wondering who to now route for and what direction the tale will take? Hitchcock delivers one of movie history’s most memorable sequences and delivers one of the greatest horror films of all time.
In LA Confidential (1997), director Curtiss Hanson examines the hidden corruption within the ranks of the Los Angeles police force. It follows three very different policemen who team up reluctantly after the opening of a can of worms resulting from a slaughter at a downtown diner. Crooked Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey, aids the investigation when he realises how far his morals have slumped after a tipoff leads to tragedy. During a conversation with his superior, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), the true villain is revealed and unfortunately for Jack, he discovers too late who that person is.
Jack’s death is swift, brutal and shocking. After he is shot in the heart the camera pauses on his dazed expression as a dark stream of blood pours from a hole in his white shirt. His colleagues, White and Exley are next in line for termination. LA Confidential is a perfect example of two hour plus feature that flies by and continues to pile on the tension and twists right up to the final shot. As much as I love the sci-fi, Minority Report, I can’t help feel that the scene with Colin Farrell and Max Von Sydow is all too similar to the aforementioned sequence.