How Shane Black Uses Awkward Violence to Tell Great Stories

Just like great dialog, multidimensional characters, and an interesting plot, violence, too, can be used for better storytelling.

Violence gets kind of a bum rap in cinema. Not only is it seen as an American fixation there only to quench our bloodlust, but it is often subjugated to the lesser role of fiery spectacle. Essentially, violence is the sex symbol of cinematic content: beautiful to look at and doesn't have any speaking parts. But violence can actually be so much more than that, and Evan Puschak, the Nerdwriter, brings that point home by highlighting the work of writer/director Shane Black, who manages to use violence as a tool to tell great stories.

If you think about Black's work, like Lethal WeaponKiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys, there's obviously plenty of violence. (I mean—when one of your films' titles is onomatopoeic with the sound violence makes, then...) But unlike much of the violent sequences we see in countless superhero and action films, his violence isn't senseless; it's there to tell a story.

Consider the final fight sequence in Man of Steel between Superman and Zod—what's it made up of? It's made up of over 8 minutes of fighting and has a couple of short moments of expositional dialog—oh, and the complete destruction of an entire city. Do we learn anything new about these two characters? Does it help push the narrative forward? Maybe some viewers would say they did and it does, but for others, the scene leaves a lot to be desired.

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uP07fgNUCM

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1SYSiesNjY

Puschak explains how his brand of violence is used as a "plot element or exhibition of character." It's intentionally awkward, sometimes bizarre, and happens when you least expect it. But, those are the qualities that make his violent scenes stand out, because they can be intimate, introspective, and personal. And viewers end up truly loving and being moved by films they form intimate, introspective, and personal connections with.

Instead of having the hero and villain thrash each other for several minutes because it's fun to watch, Black, in a way, gives a soul to violence by allowing it to affect his characters in deep, albeit (sometimes) comedic ways. And even if you don't buy all that, you have to at least admit that he's creative with it. (I mean, who hasn't watched Lethal Weapon at least a billion times? Never gets old.)     

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Very interesting and relevant analysis !
I think "Drive" from Refn could be a good example of how use violence as a narrative tool.

August 12, 2016 at 2:08AM, Edited August 12, 2:08AM

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Fabien W. Furter
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