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The Perfect Scene


kerraig UK
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I wouldn't say they're perfect, but I'm very fond of the action scenes in Children of Men.  They're remarkable because rather than being exciting or exhilarating they all just evoke a gradually rising sense of unease, anxiety and panic.  I suppose it's the sheer length of them, combined with the simulated single-shot takes - they make me feel like the protagonists (and me, a bit) are trapped in a ludicrously dangerous situation with no way out.  They actually feel more like horror scenes than action scenes.

 

This one, for instance, is fucking exhausting to watch - there seems to be no end to the danger they're in:

 

 

I also think this might be the best car chase in any film I've seen.  It's incredibly tense because of how slow it is:

 

 

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When arnie and co mow down like 10 fucking acres of jungle after seeing the Predator for the first time. That's a perfect scene to me as it gets even more ridiculous as everyone piles in firing M16's and grenade launchers. 

 

'we hit nothing'. 

 

Then the realisation sets in that they are totally fucked. 

 

 

 

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If ever a topic like this has come up before I would certainly have put two particular entries in it:

 

The climactic shootout in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Much like the aforementioned on it Once Upon A Time... it's a perfect fusion of every element of cinema (excluding dialogue, I suppose!). The widescreen, Technicolor image. The framing of the characters as they move into position. The editing montage that draws in closer and closer alongside the slow build of the music - almost to crescendo, then restarting to finally reach its apex at the point of action. It can't be done to the same effect in any other medium, and it's what cinema at its finest is all about.

 

The prison camp breakout scene from The Deer Hunter. We know Michael (De Niro) and Nick (Walken) are going to make a break for it, and we know they're going to have to play Russian Roulette to the point where they can be absolutely sure there's a bullet in the chamber to use against their captors. Just that setup is a masterful piece of tension, but add in the frenzied oppression of the game itself, the repeated slaps and jeering from the guards, Michael psyching Nick up to keep going, and his contained rage at the guard. All this building and building to an unbearable level until an explosion of violence that's over in a flash. I think the acting in this scene is extraordinary, and again, with editing, framing and performance something that can't be achieved outside of the movies.

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There's a scene (pick one) from All the President's Men that's a favourite of mine. Bernstein goes to see a particularly reluctant and nervously paranoid source (a bookkeeper in the Nixon campaign) who is staying with her sister. In a moment of hesitation he nudges his way in, coffee is offered and accepted (much to the chagrin of the target) - anything to prolong the contact. He starts by throwing out inconsequential enquiries, coaxing cooperation out of her. The scene is all about walking a tightrope of pestering insistence whilst not being shown the door. Hoffman is superb at circling around and returning to points and questions, bluffing about what he already knows and playing for time when he realises he's onto something and doesn't know what to do next - a nervy carefulness from being agonisingly close to the truth. It's a really clever piece of psychological manipulation that ultimately lands the information he needs.

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How to ratchet up the tension in a scene where everyone already knows the ending, cut away to shots of hugging all-American families without it coming across as saccharine, and show a crowd's cheer that, every time I watch it, I almost want to join in myself.

 

Not that it's quite perfect: I do wonder whether it would have been better if James Horner's score coming in over the shot of the parachute had been delayed just a second or so later:

 

 

 

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Ooh. I love seeing long takes on a single actor's face as they go through a range of emotions. 

 

For example, De Niro as Jimmy Conway sat at the bar, the opening bars of Sunshine Of Your Love playing and the camera slowly closing in on his face and a similar one with Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, but my all-time favourite example is the end of The Long Good Friday. Seeing Bob Hoskins go from confusion to anger and eventual fear at what has befallen him, all with Francis Monkman's theme in the background. An amazing piece of acting.

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I could mention several scenes from La Haine. But the one which captures the theme of modern France struggling to reconcile it's traditions with its changing identity and rising social unrest is the Edith Piaf remix performed the centre of a Parisian slum. Along with a fantastic tracking shot back which seems unbelievable considering it was over a decade before drones were a possibility.

 

 

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I don't know about 'perfect', but the first black rider chase in the Fellowship Of The Ring was the first moment when it went from being fantastical to very real, and you sense the magnitude of the hobbits task, when they're hiding behind a log, this gigantic figure of death searching around. I think the Fellowship of the Ring did a great job making the black riders very menacing, and real and pretty scary, and this scene was key in establishing their threat, and being new to this world I didn't know how it would play out. I read Guillermo Del Toro say that for him this scene was where he became fully on board with the film, and I think it's the same for a lot of people, me included.

 

The tension of Frodo getting increasingly close to putting on the ring to reveal the hobbits whereabouts, the zoomed in chaotic direction as they all step in front of the horse and you see what little nuisances they are, despite the threat of this rider making it seem they have no chance. The Sleepy Hollow-esque cinematography, with the fog, and the black rider in silhouette, the rush to the raft, Frodo falling behind and the brilliant dark viciousness of the horse chasing Frodo, it all slowed down, the rest of the hobbits all on the raft pulling away, and Frodo's fantastic leap to make it. It's brilliantly edited I think and one of the best sequences in the film trilogy, it had real danger to it without using excessive cgi, it was thrilling and genuinely grabbed you in a way very few action sequences in modern adventure/blockbuster/action/fantasy films do. 

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The bit where arnie, sarah and john all turn around before the T-1000 walks through the bars. Perfect! then straight after the psychiatrists jaw drops and the syringe cap hits the floor. He's like ' fuck... she was telling the truth'. Ha.

 

 

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The party scene in Lost Highway when the demonic guy says he is in Bill Paxman's house and makes him call home to speak to him. That was a black monolith moment for me - I suddenly realised how tame most cinema is, how broad a medium film can be, and have loved Lynch ever since.

 

I also love Raiders of the Lost Ark, and my favourite scene is when Marian is drinking with Belloch, her captor. The way the scene keeps shifting - her flirting and faux drunkness, the grab for the knife, the failed escape when the Nazi nutcase appears, the way his 'torture' instrument turns out to be a coat hanger - it's such a virtuoso piece of storytelling. Plus Marian :wub:

 

Lastly the recent Sicario really blew me away - the motorway scene in particualr manages to ramp up tension to almost unbearable levels - and when the action hits, it's just so viscerally portrayed. Gave me a huge adrenaline rush in the cinema. Only the Heat bank robbery scene comes close for balls out, assault rifle action (which I'm suprised no one has mentioned here).

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For me it is a scene in fellowship of the ring, at the council of elrond - when everyone is arguing about who will take the ring and frodo pipes up saying he will - the shot on Gandalf his face goes from "fuck no not you frodo - to fuck this is the only way" all in the space of 2 / 3 seconds - no words said Just Mckellan and the way he adjusts his face says it all.

 

also Raiders of the lost ark - the whole truck chase scene.. from the moment Indy says "I don't know I'm making this up as I go" then he emerges from the tent on the horse and the music kicks in - you can't help but go fuck yeah go get them! Followed one of the best on moving vechial fights ever!! 

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Good shout Kerraig, the crazy thing is that film is oft criticised for being too 'talky' but the script is a fucking masterpiece. Just tight as a drum and sharp as one of Frankenstein's scalpels.

 

My perfect scene is in Manhunter when he takes her to visit the tiger, beautiful, nuanced and tragic. Incredible filmmaking.

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The bit in Casablanca where they have sing-off between the French national anthem and some German dirge. The whole film was building up to this point. We see Victor Laslo finally snap in the face of the nazis and lead the band in the anthem, we get Humprey Bogart finally moved into action after dragging his heels, we have Ingrid Bergmans other-worldly beauty and it ends with a cry of triumph, 'Vive La France'. Do I cry every tiem? No, but I have had tears in my eyes many, many times watching this scene. It's just perfect.

 

 

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