Greatest Chase Scenes, Vol.2 (Bipedal) — Part Two

In Part One, which I’m sure provided you with a drug-like high that’s yet to wear off, we covered foot chases in such varied films as The Last of the Mohicans, Raising Arizona, The Third Man, Point Break and The Bourne Ultimatum.

Let’s dig right into six more, including the CFS’s choice as GOAT.

District 13 (2004, Pierre Morel)

Setup
Banlieue 13, or District 13 to those of us whose French is limited to the word “croissant,” is a (fictional) ghetto in the outskirts of Paris. With a population of two million and rampant crime, the authorities have, in the tradition of Escape from New York, walled it off and basically let the inmates run the asylum. There are some, however, who push back against the gangs who now run the district. One such hero, Leïto (David Belle), finds himself in big trouble when he destroys a stash of drugs about to be claimed by some bad guys. A chase ensues.

My Two Cents
Banlieue 13 is unique in two regards: first, it was directed by a guy, Pierre Morel, who shares a name with an edible fungus and, second, it introduced many of us to parkour, which is defined by our friends at Wikipedia as…

“…a training discipline using movement that developed from military obstacle course training. Practitioners aim to get from one point to another in a complex environment without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Parkour includes running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling, quadrupedal movement, and other movements as deemed most suitable for the situation.”

The shirtless guy in the scene is David Belle, one of the founders of the sport. How he is still alive is a miracle. The main thing to take away from the scene, something I stress to my children at every opportunity, is this: never jump out a window after the guy your chasing unless you’re sure there’s a second rope.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011, Dir. Brad Bird)

Setup
Kurt Hendricks (the lamentably dead Michael Nyqvist), a nut job nuclear strategist, has stolen a nuclear launch control device and is negotiating to obtain launch codes at the Burg Khalifa in Dubai. Despite the Impossible Mission Force (IMF)’s best efforts at throwing a wrench into the works, Hendricks races from the building with the goods. Ethan Hunt (famed sprinter Tom Cruise) gives chase.

My Two Cents
Yeah, this one’s a bit of a cheat because what starts as a foot chase becomes a game of automotive chicken, but…whatever. Director Brad Bird, making his live-action debut after a career spent in animation (he wrote and directed The Iron GiantThe Incredibles and the classic Ratatouille), does a nice job keeping things moving along at a brisk clip. Heck, he even throws in a sandstorm to add to the chaos and confusion of negotiating a Middle-Eastern bazaar. That said, it’s a little sad that, for a series chockfull of action set pieces, this is the best foot chase the Mission: Impossible franchise has to offer. It seems they prefer those involving cars, helicopters, motorcycles, trains, bungees and airplanes. Sexier stuff, in other words. Here’s hoping the sixth installment will remedy the oversight.

French Connection II (1975, Dir. John Frankenheimer)

Setup
After the unsatisfactory denouement in the first film, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) travels to Marseilles to hunt down his old nemesis, drug kingpin Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). A fish out of water, Doyle soon finds himself captured by Charnier’s thugs and repeatedly injected with heroin, thus becoming, irony of all ironies, an addict. Eventually he’s rescued and endures a painful detox. Back in the saddle, he works with the Marseilles police to track the Charnier clan, including the man himself, to a dry dock. A gunfight ensues. Charnier escapes. Doyle, not about to lose his quarry a second time, especially after all that ignominious being-turned-into-a-junkie business, gives chase. (Ed. note: YouTube doesn’t have many clips of this film. Thus they goofy formatting of the following clip.)

My Two Cents
French Connection II is an underrated gem. Although ostensibly a sequel to the first film, the setting and circumstances are so far removed from the original that it feels totally fresh. Whether struggling with the language, the culture, his fellow cops or, shockingly, addiction, this is not the same cocksure, in-control Popeye Doyle we came to know in the original. In spite of that — or perhaps enhanced by it — Doyle never strays from the job at hand: bringing down “Frog #1” Charnier. In the epic foot chase that leads to resolution, director Frankenheimer reaches deep into his slightly cheesy 1970s cinematic toolbox, employing a jazzy score, telephoto camera zooms and even some washed out, pre-steadicam POV shots. But no matter — it’s still a doozie as Doyle, despite a really bad shirt and a stitch in his side (less heroin, more cardio perhaps?), finally gets the upper hand on his bête noire.

Heat (1995, Dir. Michael Mann)

Setup
Master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) lives by the credo that one must not get “attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” Unfortunately for him, after a bank heist that devolves into a massive shootout on the streets of L.A., he’s unable to heed his own advice, delaying his well-planned escape to take care of the guy who ratted him out to the cops. After the deed, he’s spotted by dogged LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), who gives chase through the hangers and runways of LAX.

My Two Cents
Another foot chase made great by its setting, beautifully photographed in inky blacks by director Mann’s crack cinematographer, Dante Spinotti. Note how the two men are literally dwarfed by what’s going on around them, as if to indicate that, no matter how urgent the moment feels to the pursuer and pursued, to the world at large, represented by blinding landing lights and giant taxiing and landing planes, it doesn’t even register a shrug. What makes this cat-and-mouse chase even more unnerving (other than the sound design, which goes from quiet to painfully loud with each passing jet) is the audience’s conflicted opinions of the two characters. Sure, McCauley deserves to be taken down but, at the same time, over the last two and a half hours we gotten to know him as a man of honor, one who fosters and protects important relationships with his crew and his new girlfriend. Hannah, on the other hand, for all his admirable police work, is a single-minded machine, content with throwing away yet another marriage in the pursuit of bad guys. Nothing is black and white. And then there’s that final shot, when the two of them acknowledge their mutual admiration. Great stuff.

Minority Report (2002, Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Setup
In mid-21st century Washington DC, murder has been eradicated thanks to the Procogs, three adult humans born to drug-addicted mothers who can predict any future premeditated murder. Therefore, instead of being arrested for an actual crime, people are arrested for murders they haven’t yet committed. Which brings up a whole mess of ethical questions we won’t address in this post. On the eve of the program going national, John Anderton (Tom Cruise), lead cop in this “PreCrime” division, finds himself framed for a future murder he didn’t (or won’t) commit. Of course, if that’s true (that he didn’t do it), PreCrime is a sham. But we won’t address that sticky conundrum in this post either. What we will address is Anderton being pursued by his old workmates, who just want him to come along quietly. Of course, Anderton prefers to do it the hard way.

My Two Cents
In this very unique (and prescient) film, one filled with many indelible images, this chase stands apart. Director Spielberg and his team of craftspeople have taken a relatively tired trope (the foot chase) and added another dimension to it, literally, by having the principals not only run (and jetpacks) after each other horizontally, but also engage vertically, be it scaling or dropping from a fire escape. As always, it’s a masterclass in technique — staging, camera movement, angles, you name it. Plus, it’s got a funny gag involving flame broiling burgers.

Casino Royale (2006, Dir. Martin Campbell)

Setup
In sweaty Madagascar, Bond surveils the notorious bomb maker, Mollaka (Sébastien Foucan), at a ferret/snake fight. Tipped off to the danger, Mollaka flees to a construction site and, eventually, an embassy. Bond gives chase, letting nothing — not a crane, the shell of a building, nor sovereign territory — get in his way.

My Two Cents
Well, here it is, my vote for GOAT foot chase. This puppy’s got everything: incredible parkour, precipitous cranes, death-defying jumps, gunplay and an unexpectedly great denouement.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s first note that the Bond franchise was rebooted in 2006, at a time when movie audiences had spoken with their wallets that guys like Jason Bourne, dudes who kick unholy ass, were the hero de jour. So give the Bond producers props for realizing an actor in the gentlemanly tradition of Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan wouldn’t pass muster. Instead, they needed someone who presented an undeniable physicality, someone who we’d accept as “a blunt instrument” in M’s (Judi Dench) words. Someone who ended up being the little-known (at the time) Daniel Craig. Good decision #1. Good decision #2 involved showcasing that brutal Bourne-esque physicality, utterly new for Bond (and a Bond film), as soon as the opening credits wrapped. Thus the mother of all action scenes in Madagascar (actually Nassau, standing in).

Director Martin Campbell, this his second Bond film (his first: Goldeneye), was a great choice to take the franchise in a different direction, his action bona fides impeccable. (His staging of yet another action scene in Casino Royale, this at an airport is something else.) As for the parkour scene, it continually surprises, topping itself over and over again as Bond and the villain (played by Sébastien Foucan, another founder of the parkour movement) scale, leap, descend and pretty much bang into everything in sight. It’s gritty, violent, impeccably staged, filmed, edited and scored. And then that ending — I remember watching it in the theater and breaking out in giddy laughter. Craig has my vote for the best Bond and Casino Royale is by far my favorite Bond flick.

Here endth the lesson.

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