News Column

Gentleman, start your engine

August 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 29--There's something remarkably pure -- unadulterated, undiluted -- about Ethan Hawke's new action movie, Getaway, which opens Friday.

It has no subplots, no subtext, no pretext. It's a film stripped down to a single cinematic ingredient -- the car chase.

"It is literally the biggest car chase ever in the movies," said director-producer Courtney Solomon of the flick, which costars Selena Gomez and Jon Voight.

"It's kind of insane, when you think about it, to go out and make a 90-minute car chase."

The premise -- a film about a nonstop car chase -- picqued Hawke's interest immediately.

"That's exactly why I did the movie," he said in an e-mail interview. "It's a straight-up joyride."

Getaway may be pure, but it's hardly innocent. It's a breathless, down-and-dirty car chase/bank-heist story.

Hawke stars as Brent Magna, a burned-out NASCAR driver eking out a living in Sofia, Bulgaria, who comes home one day to find his wife has been kidnapped.

His phone rings; a voice tells him the only way he can save her is to get in a specially outfitted silver-gray Shelby GT500 Super Snake and drive.

Things get complicated fast when a gun-wielding teenage girl (Gomez as a character named The Girl) jumps into the car. It's her car, she barks, and if Brent has any sense, he'll give it back.

So the driver takes The Girl along for the ride.

Over the course of one night, The Voice, as Voight's character is called, directs Hawke to perform a series of crazy stunts -- race across the entire city at absurd speeds, smash through an open-air market, chase skaters at an ice rink, and, above all, avoid being stopped by the police.

Mayhem, mayhem, and mayhem ensue. It's 89 minutes of steel-crushing, car-crashing, pedestrian-trashing mayhem, captured through dozens of mini-digi cameras mounted around and inside Brent's car, on cars chasing Brent, on the road, on light poles -- a visual tossed salad of frenetic movement through one of Europe's most beautiful yet rarely photographed cities.

"We used between 27 and 42 cameras per shot," said Solomon, sipping a ginger ale at an outdoor table at Hotel Monaco's Red Owl Tavern in Center City.

"We shot 630 hours of footage . . . [which] took us seven months to edit."

Film critics haven't exactly warmed to Getaway; some reviews have been scathing. But if the crowd reaction at a recent screening is any indication, it ought to do well with action fans, especially young men.

The concept was hatched entirely from a guy fantasy, admitted Shawn Finnegan, who cowrote the script with longtime collaborator Gregg Maxwell Parker.

"Getaway was inspired by everything that we ever wanted to do in a car and couldn't," he said from Los Angeles in a recent phone chat, "because it was illegal or deadly or made impossible by the actual laws of physics."

Getaway is Solomon's third film as a director, and something of a departure. Best known as a producer, Solomon is the founder of After Dark Films, which specializes in high-concept horror films, and which he founded after releasing the 2005 ghost story An American Haunting. Solomon directed the film, which succeeded in large part because of a terrific cast including Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, and Rachel Hurd-Wood.

Good actors can anchor a film, no matter how strange the story, said the filmmaker, who credits Hawke with giving Getaway a certain emotional realism.

"I didn't want an action movie star," said Solomon, "I wanted a guy who could make me feel he's a regular guy who's actually caught in this situation."

The director added, "And Selena is perfect because she is that girl and she had a great chemistry with Ethan."

The actors' greatest challenge was to perform in such a restricted space -- they spend virtually the entire film sitting in a car.

"I think in a way it helped" the performance, said Hawke. "Sometimes when things are incredibly simple, it forces everything to be straightforward and honest."

Hawke insisted on doing some of his own stunts, perhaps recognizing that the film's true star is that gorgeous Shelby, a sublime machine that will inspire passion even if you're not a gear-head.

That includes Hawke, who is more used to riding subways than piloting muscle cars. "The bottom line is I'm a New Yorker," he said. "So cars are still abstract and interesting to me."

Movie

Getaway

Opens Friday at area theaters.

Contact staff writer Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com

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