“Cut to the chase,” is one of those Hollywood phrases that have entered the everyday idiom. Before it was adopted by impatient middle-managers, its an expression that dates back to the early days of cinema when film-makers were exploring the possibilities of character development. The phrase was adopted by producer, studio-owner Hal Roach to insist that the film gets to the action as quickly as possible.
The set-piece action sequence such as chases are the ultimate cinematic devices. Film theorist Siegfried Kracauer describes the sine qua non, the desire for motion, in cinema led directors like Griffith to include “a chase pure and simple” or “a last minute rescue” at the end of his movies.
What about those movies that are based purely around action? Those films, like RUN LOLA RUN, that grab the audience from the first scene and take them on a exhilarating, unrelenting ride.
Here is Dirk’s Five that’ll never let you go …
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004)
Paul Greengrass rewrote the rule-book for action thrillers with this head-twisting combination of hand-held documentary camera work and uncompromising brutality. Greengrass also owes a debt to Tykwer in his technique and for bringing Franka Potente to world attention. She plays Marie Kreutz who is holed up with Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne in India at the beginning of the film. He’s still trying to come to terms with his former life as a CIA assassin when he becomes embroiled in some macguffin plot that hardly matters. It begins with an assassination attempt and spins into a dizzying thrill ride.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
Before Greengrass was rewriting the rule book, Hitchcock had made a major revision with this exemplar thriller. Carey Grant is an innocent Advertising Executive (if you can imagine such a thing) who is a victim of mistaken identity. A mysterious, sinister organisation want to eliminate him as they believe that he will get in the way of their evil plans. It culminates to a spectacular scene involving Lincoln’s nose on Mount Rushmore, but before that there is the splendid sequence involving a menacing crop-duster …
À BOUT PORTANT (POINT BLANK) (2010)
I saw this on a damp afternoon in Liverpool at the FACT cinema. Gilles Lellouche is Samuel, who’s pregnant wife is abducted early in the film. He is blackmailed by a group of thieves who want him to get one of their members out of police custody within a local hospital where his wife works. It is a brilliant thrill ride that twists and turns as it becomes clear that Samuel has nowhere to run… but he runs, and runs and runs …
I know that the superlatives are wearing a little thin, however I believe this to be a masterpiece of pure cinema. The sheer spectacle of Sandra Bullock ‘lost in space’ is a completely immersive experience. She floats through space with a rapidly decreasing oxygen supply and the collective cinema audience begin to breath more shallowly, urging her not to panic.
HIT THE GROUND
SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL (1997)
Jan de Bolt’s follow up to his excellent SPEED (1994) which was a huge hit thanks to its simple premise: a psychopath has put a bomb on a bus full of people, if the speed drops below 50 mph, it will be detonated. In the follow up, the action transfers to a cruise ship where Sandra Bullock is on holiday. A hacker redirects the ship towards an oil tanker.
Yawn. The whole thing soon runs aground. A reminder that Bullocks can sometimes be bollocks.