Remembering The Greatest Action Scene In The History Of Cinema
We talk a lot about the raid.
No, not that one!
The neck-destro-y one! The Raid.
There it is!
When the conversation turns to great action/martial arts scenes, we—rightfully so—often talk about The Raid. Gareth Evans’ 2011 violent, balletic extravaganza electrified the genre and shot a bolt of pure lightning up the arse of anyone who would dare to dream of depicting violence on screen.
Or so goes the accepted narrative.
But we don’t play that way, do we?
Nah, we know what’s what.
The sad truth is Gareth Evans needn’t have bothered. I mean: yeah, well done, Welshman. You managed to get some pretty impressive kicks and decent knife stabs on camera. Good work, buddy, no one’s taking that away from you.
But you’re small fry. Second fiddle. Steven Seagal’s already done everything that we might ever need from an action movie. So go on, run along now and let the big boys play.
In 1991 Steven Seagal was one year away from releasing the action-trash classic Under Siege. What was 1991 Steven Seagal doing instead of releasing Under Siege? He was releasing Out For Justice. Which, as good as Under Siege is, any sane human being must recognise as a far worthier endeavor.
What’s Out For Justice about?
It doesn’t matter.
It’s about Steven Seagal fucking shit all the way up is what it’s about. His character’s a detective called Gino Fellino. Gino’s from Brooklyn. He has a friend and partner called Bobby Lupo. Had a friend and partner called Bobby Lupo. Bobby got killed by Richie. Richie grew up with both Gino and Bobby. But then drugs. Crack. Murder. Oh no!
At one point in the movie, Seagal’s hurt-search takes him into the basement of a gang bar. He’s looking for Richie.
It’s one of the greatest scenes—action or otherwise—in the history of cinema.
Now, listen, it might feel like you’re ready for this, but trust me you’re not. So go: pour yourself a strong drink, grab a comfortable seat, light the candle to ward off the spirits, and get ready. Because this shit makes the shootout from Heat look like The Room.
Check it out:
Just look at him go! Six-and-a-half minutes, and it’s all there! They sent Chuck Berry’s music into space as a representation of what our species, millions of years spent dragging itself from the primordial ooze, born out of sheer statistical improbability, could achieve. Carl Sagan wrote Berry a letter about it! If this clip of Gino looking for RICH-AY because of BOBB-AY LUU-POHHH wasn’t sent out as well then no wonder we still think we’re alone in the universe.
Would you make contact with a civilization that hadn’t made Out For Justice yet?
That scene? It’s perfection.
It starts as it means to go on. Seagal marches down into the dive bar, no thought nor heed for his personal well-being. He marches straight the fuck down into the maw of danger and through a blast of Sleazy Bar Music™, asking for Vinny. Shouting for Vinny! Demanding Vinny!
Who the fuck does this guy think he is, uh? You wanna grimace at him, Vinny, or should I?
Fuck it let’s both do it.
But there’s a hidden story here. We can tell. This is the neighborhood!. These guys all came up together. Vinny’s mama probably knew Gino’s mama. And now he’s a cop! Narcotics. Coming in here. Fuhgeddaboutit!
And, oh yeah! That accent! It’s all there. Every time Steven Seagal uses his Italian-American cartoon accent an angel gets its wings.
And it’s used to deliver such lines!
‘Cos he’s a chicken shit fuckin pussy asshole!’ Now that’s a sick fucking burn in any accent, of course. But in Seagal’s hands it becomes something transcendental:
‘Cuz ‘e’s a chihkunshid fuhgin pohsee asshole!’
Joss Whedon, you stealth-writer you, it’s okay, you can admit you had a hand in Out For Justice now.
Gino moves on from Vinny. Fuhgeddaboutit.
Except he doesn’t just move. He saunters. Swaggers. There ain’t an adjective yet invented for the perambulatory movement that Gino demonstrates in that bar, insulting its patrons and asking, again and again, ‘Has anybody seen RICH-AY?!’ Does anybody know why RICH-AY did BOBBy LUPohhh?!’
Nothing intimidates Gino.
Not Italian Jabba The Hut with his gallery of mooks behind him.
Not the ominously looming lonesome Checkhov’s East Asian man, sat menacingly with a pool cue in the background and what is certain to be a fully-fleshed out role in his scriptbook.
Nothing stops Gino and his Glare Of Confused Death.
Gino’s gonna find RICH-AY who did BOBBY LOO-POHHHHH and he doesn’t care how many bones he’s gonna have to break to do it. No bones have been broken yet; no teeth knocked out; but you know it’s coming; the movie knows you know; and it has you, hooked. The movie knows you the same way Gino knows these jabronis are using the bar as a cover.
Gino moves among his unwitting prey like a greased-up shark dressed in satin. He picks up a ball from the pool table and bounces it around, its clacking echo resounding ominously in this den of thieves. A warning.
Italian insults fly and the tension mounts.
And then: one of the best bits. Gino shoves, insults, and glares his way behind the bar. Observe this sequence of shots and events.
In response to Gino encroaching upon his sacred space, Tough Bartender with a countenance of steel orders him away.
Silly man *tut tut*
Chastened bartender now scrambling out of the way, Gino puts on a goddamn show!
With studied nonchalance and venomous insolence, he throws glasses off the counter and shoves things around.
*glass gets thrown*
*stuff gets shoved off the bar*
*more stuff thrown*
And then. And then Steven Seagal delivers maybe the greatest line in movie history. He turns away from the bar, reaches into a shelf, grabs something, turns around, and pulls out a solitary sausage which he promptly proceeds to dump onto the bar, wagging a finger and saying:
‘WHOSE HOT DOG IS THIS, HUH, IS DAT YOURS?’
There has never been, nor will there ever be a more potent, menacing, implied threat than
‘WHOSE HOT DOG IS THIS, HUH, IS DAT YOURS?’
The Satin Shark Of Death carries on as the patrons grow ever more enraged. You can feel the danger in the air. Violence is coming. Gino coaxes the resurrected bartender—a former boxer—into striking at him. A fierce blow heads towards Gino’s head but before it can do any damage, BAM!, elbow-to-the-the-nose! ‘UARGHH!’ Down goes Boxer Bartender.
Now Gino has played enough. He is bored. He escalates shit.
‘You know, Vinny, I’m starting to get in bad mood, ya know?’
He takes out his gun and he fires a few warning shots into the basement bar’s ceiling. To which this incredible exchange:
‘HEY YOU TOTALLY FUCKIN’ NUTS OR WHAT, YOU COULDA KILLED SOME-BODY UP-STAAAIRS!’
‘BUT THERE AIN’T NO-BODY UP-STAAAIRS!’
‘THERE’S NO-BODY UPSTAAAIRS—HOW WOULD YOU KNOW?!’
And that’s when things kick off. To the sound of threats soaring through the air Gino abandons his gun and takes off his badge. ‘This is your trophy!’ he says. Come and get it. And they do.
And they get dismantled. One by one the fools get destroyed by a whirlwind of fists, feet, elbows, and cue balls wrapped in handkerchiefs. Teeth get knocked out. At one point, looming lonesome Checkhov’s East Asian man stops looming and gets summoned into the fray. Turns out he’s holding a pool cue for a reason that isn’t just playing pool. He has a name! It’s Sticks. He’s got no lines to say, but he is handy in cue-to-cue combat. Or at least he thought he was was until the day Gino Fellino stepped into his bar.
Sticks defeated, the bar knows the game is up. Fear settles over those remaining standing, and Gino Fellino performs the single greatest post-fight intimidation move ever seen: he shoves a guy into a phone booth and shuts him in. Not just shoves him in, but shoves him back in, as he already did so a minute before the fight started!
Let that be a lesson to you, Phone Booth Man: if Gino Fellino shows up to your bar looking for RICH-AY who did BOBBy LUPohhh you just go ahead and embrace your name and camp out in the phone booth until it’s all over.
Gino is out for justice.
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