I had been hearing about this movie for years. It was dumped by the studio, no publicity, but it has gained a cult following, like Vanishing Point, which it somewhat resembles. It is minimalist cinema, neo-noir (which, I think, means a noir sensibility but in color), and a heckuva lot of fun. What it’s about is cars going very fast through improbable Los Angeles streets and warehouses at night. That’s pretty much it. There is a plot, but who cares? No one smiles in this movie—ever, I was looking for it—except Bruce Dern as The Detective (no one has names in this movie, that’s how cool, how detached it is), and you know what that’s like. What a creepy dude he is. Makes Christopher Walken look like Tom Hanks. The Driver, Ryan O’Neal, speaks a total of 350 words. Somebody counted! I’m actually surprised it was that many. And he is totally deadpan, so Ryan was the perfect boy for it …
I’m so glad I saw this now, though. It confirms something I was pretty sure was true, but hesitated to point out, as my younger readers may not believe it. They don’t know how to make car chases anymore! They really don’t. I watched the opening car chase in Hancock, and my reaction was … oh, my, wasn’t that … action-packed. Gee whiz. How (yawn) thrilling. What’s on the other channel? Dudes, when the longest shot I see in an action sequence is about 48 frames, it is impossible for me to be involved in it. I can appreciated the kinetics of it, sure, but do I care? I do not. Walter Hill, the director, knows something Peter Yates (Bullitt) and William Friedkin (The French Connection) also knew, which is that it is much more effective to use some shots of longer duration, and most especially low-angle shots looking forward. That’s what makes you grip the arms of your seat. These days the camera moves around inside the speeding cars, goes outside, goes overhead, one second here, two seconds there, maybe a very, very long shot lasting three seconds … today’s directors are slaves to the technology. The attitude is, if we can do it, we will do it. No thought is given to whether or not we should do it.
I know I’m in the minority on this. People go to films like Hancock and they must enjoy the spatial disorientation. But to me, good old-fashioned stunt driving—back in the days before computerized virtual cars meant that was the only kind of driving you could do—is infinitely more exciting than seeing nineteen cop cars fly into the air, turn seventeen flips, and skid for a mile. I know it’s phony! I know it’s nerds sitting in front of a computer screen. I like to see real cars with real drivers, laying their butts on the line, I like to see the real smoke coming off the tires. I like to know that, son of a bitch, some dude actually did that!
Am I nuts? Maybe so. But I know I’d rather have one Bullitt chase than 100 Quantum of Solace (yawn) chases.