After being humbled by James’ most recent cinophile piece on the 1971 road action movie Vanishing Point (which I am ashamed to say I have not seen yet) I was reminded of a weekend many years ago when my older brother and I spent the day watching car chases and of the arguments that ensued. I didn’t realise it but car chases are a special element that; like one’s favourite football team, are taken very seriously and, again using the football example, can lead to shouting, burning of scarves and grievous bodily harm. So what is it that makes them so damn awesome? Is it the speed, level of destruction, awesome cars, or is it just the big badda boom that most end in? I am going to look at 5 of my favourite car chases to see if there is an element that they all share and, well, LOOK A CAR!
What better way to see Paris than in a Mini Cooper at breakneck speeds; a question Jason Bourne in the 2002 movie Bourne probably knows the answer to. Forget the smell of croissants and French loaves or the sounds of lovers whispering sweet nothings, Bourne crashes through all of that, and through more. Using the small size of the Cooper to pull off some daring moves down alleys, across intersections and down stairs we are treated to a chaotic and gritty (I hate the word, but Doug Liman does it well) display of epic choreography. We also get to see a policeman use the Mini as a bouncing castle only this time le petite mort is not the last thing to go through his mind. The tight camera angles and close quarter car VS public shots had my nerves more stained than last night’s back off with Jamie Oliver which is why this sits in my top 5.
I am probably going to come under a lot of fire for this as it’s basically CGI porn fodder for geek heads and I couldn’t care a less. I remember my then girlfriend complaining when I used to watch the ‘making of’ DVD’s for movies like the Lord of the Rings or the Matrix as it took the magic away, but seeing how they spent nearly $40 million on this 17-minute long scene (eat your heart out Gravity) and the fact they actually built a damn highway for it I think it deserves to be here. I have never, I repeat, never seen such over-the-top manga-like action in a movie. From motorbikes swerving between trucks, katana fights on top of trucks, trucks pancaking into each, trucks exploding, they pretty much covered every way you can torture a truck. All of this action culminates in a full 360 slow motion explosion of epic awesomeness that has me wanting to watch the movie again. Okay, not the WHOLE thing, just the car scene, and the ‘beat all the Andersons’ scene. Also, Trinity. Nuff said.
3. French Connection
One of my all-time classic thrillers is the 1971 French Connection directed by William Friedkin, it also happens to have one of the most memorable car chase scenes of the last century. A much younger Gene Hackman plays detective Jimmy Doyle in pursuit of heroin smugglers, a role that earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor (the film picked up another 4, including best Movie, best Director and best Editor). My choice actually contains just one car that happens to be chasing an elevated train, easy stuff! Commandeering a civilian 1971 Pontiac Le Mans, Hackman takes off after a hitman in what many regard as one of the greatest car chase scenes in Hollywood. There were 5 specific stunts planned, including almost hitting a mother and child, being forced into a metal fence, and going against traffic while following the elevated train at very high speeds. Interestingly Friedkin claims that at some stages the car was travelling at nearly 90mps, claims refuted by director of photography Owen Roizman who says the frame rate was dropped to make it appear faster. Either way the sheer balls of chasing a train through rush-hour traffic make this classic an absolute must for car chase lovers.
In fairness this also belongs at the #1 spot, but after carefully considering the facts that there can be only one #1 allowed for it to sit at a noble #2. Ronin. Oh man. What a movie. Not one, not two, but three brilliant chase scenes that has cemented John Frankenheime as one of the all-time great chase directors. I don’t know what they put in the waters of Paris but there must be some serious nitro poisoning happening as this is the third film to make the list. You have to credit Frankenheime as he was hands on with all of the scenes and opted to leave out special effects for greater authenticity. – probably because he was an amateur racing in his youth. Unlike the cool factor brought by the next movie on the list, Ronin has a plethora of vehicle models, from an Audi, to Peugeots, a BMW M5 E34, Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, and even a 1998 Audi S8 quattro with nitrous oxide power-booster! The wide range of cars more often than not also had the main actors in, whether driving or being driven which is pretty impressive considering the stunts. Over 80 cars were wrecked driven at speeds of up to 120 miles an hour, speedgastic!
You can CGI a truck exploding in slow motion while a more stoic version of Superman intervenes, strap people to the top of cars, ram Mini Coopers into French policeman but you won’t get to the level of plain badass cool as Steve McQueen in his drool worthy Mustang GT 390. The 1968 Bullitt directed by Peter Yates has remained one of the best examples of how to do a car chase scene. No cars added post-production using special effects, no blue/green screen walls, just a man, his car, and something to chase. Okay admittedly it wasn’t actually McQueen doing all the hard driving, that was stuntman Carey Loftin who is a legend in his own right, but the coolness of his character has taught would be Vin Diesels that growling when angry is just childish, let the car do the talking. I remember watching this for the first time, hubcaps flying into cameras, burning rubber, near misses, it contained everything a car chase should and it was realistic for the most part. It is this realism and element of ‘cool’ that has kept this in the top list of all time car chases for many movie enthusiasts.
So that’s my top 5 list, what do you think? I know many awesome car chases haven’t made it here, like Death Proof, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Cannonball Run, The Driver etc. The list could go on and on. So what would you put as a MUST in your top 5 and why?
EDIT: In a twist it would appear that the Kervnmyster has already feature a top 10 car chases (he has more time than me, to shuddup) At least we agreed on some!
Last Updated: November 21, 2013