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#157. Car Chases

How is it that one of the most mundane tasks of our lives can also be one of the most exciting? The task to which I am referring to is that of driving. So often, we fill our lives with driving from home to work, and back home again, only to occasionally visit a third location, like the grocery store or gas station. These unexciting events are usually exacerbated by bad traffic conditions, like a highway traffic jam, or continued bad timing of traffic lights. In this way, our innate desire to go fast in cars is heightened to the point where a high-speed car chase can be an exciting turn of events. Of course, even if you aren’t being chased, if you’re driving really fast in your car, law enforcement officials will quickly turn it into a car chase. This week’s two films examine some excellent cinematic car chases, both with foreign contexts.

The French ConnectionThe French Connection
Year: 1971
Rating: R
Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours

Even if cars (and CGI) have become more technologically advanced, car chase scenes were still impressive feats of choreography and stuntmanship for almost as long as movies have been made. However, if one were to pinpoint the film that started the cinematic car chase, it would have to be Bullitt (1968) and Steve McQueen’s race through San Francisco. And even if It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) had a car chase five years earlier, it was for comedic effect, much like The Blues Brothers (1980) perfected years later with a veritable legion of police cars being totaled in the process. Similarly, The French Connection took what Bullitt had done and improved upon it. After all, it’s easy for one car to chase another, but a completely different story when the car chase involves an elevated train.

Much like Bullitt highlighted the aspects of San Francisco that made it a unique city for a car chase, The French Connection did the same thing for New York City. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) is behind the wheel after an assassin fails in an attempt on Popeye’s life. The NYPD Detective had been exposed during his investigation of a potential shipment of heroin from France, which caused the hit on him to be given out in the first place. Immediately after being shot at, Popeye starts to chase after his attempted assassin, which involves a high-speed drive through New York’s streets, most of it underneath an elevated train. Since the assassin figured he could get away fastest by train, he didn’t realize that Popeye was committed to bringing the assassin to justice. Furthermore, once the assassin was shot, and the heroin shipment intercepted, will the NYPD be able to close the case?

The Italian JobThe Italian Job
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours

As was hinted at earlier, improvements in cars and CGI have made car chases much more spectacular in modern years. Aside from the Fast and the Furious franchise, which is essentially a vehicle for such chases, many other films have upped the intensity of the car chase from the films of the mid-to-late 20th century. Movies like The Matrix Reloaded (2003), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Dark Knight (2008) all have intense action sequences involving car chases (and are all, strangely enough, the middle part of a trilogy). Still, some heist/crime drama films focus more on driving as part of its plot, including Drive (2011) and The Italian Job (2003). After all, when crimes are committed, a getaway vehicle is needed, and a skilled driver must be used to escape in a high-speed action sequence with lots of literal twists and turns.

A remake of the 1969 film of the same name, The Italian Job manages to not only have a car chase (with helicopters, by the way), but a boat chase as well. The movie begins with a heist of some gold from an apartment in Venice, Italy. As the safe containing the bullion falls through the floor, a boat drives away, causing the mobsters who initially stole the gold to take chase as the real safe is broken into under water. Unfortunately, the gold is stolen again when a double-cross happens on the Austrian border. When the team re-groups a year later, they develop a plan to get the gold back from their traitorous comrade. Of course, in order to quickly pull off this heist, three Mini Coopers are utilized because of their small size and ease of maneuverability. However, even the best laid escape routes can be compromised when a helicopter comes into play. Will they get away with the gold once and for all?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 crazy car chases

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2 responses to “#157. Car Chases

  1. Pingback: #144. Con Artists | Cinema Connections

  2. Pingback: End of Act Four | Cinema Connections

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