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Risky Business On The Big Screen

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How many times have you left the cinema or turned off the TV only to say that you’ve been on the edge of your seat for the last couple of hours? Pretty often if your choice of movies is any good! After all, isn’t that what they’re there for, at least partly. We want to get totally involved in the action and go through the same experiences of the actors on screen, if only vicariously.

So it stands to reason that we often have to endure unbelievably tense scenes that, in real life, may well reduce us to the state of gibbering wrecks, nerves shot to pieces and incapable of making it to the popcorn stand without some kind of assistance.

Of course, the higher the stakes and the bigger the sense of jeopardy the better in terms of the cinematic impact it has – and it also gives the actors in question the chance to really stretch themselves in terms of their performance. If it’s also a question of life or death, then so much the better too. So here, without further ado, are five great examples from across the decades and across the genres.

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Casino Royale

James Bond has always been the archetypal risk taker whether trying to escape from a villain’s lair seconds before it’s blown to smithereens or being pursued along narrow and perilous mountain roads in one of the various Aston Martins that he’s driven throughout his career.

When the series was given something of a reboot in 2006 with the arrival of Daniel Craig in the title role he became perhaps the most reckless Bond ever. The new approach certainly seemed to gain favour with both viewers and critics taking $599 million at the box office and making it onto many of the Top Ten lists for 2006 nominated by journalists.

The film’s a white-knuckle ride throughout but it’s the casino scene that really stands out. Bond boldly accepts the challenge of a game of poker by the evil Le Chiffre but his Martini is poisoned in the middle of the game. The scene that follows in which he tries to make it to the defibrillator in the car shows director Martin Campbell’s sheer skill in cranking up the tension. Once he resolves that issue, Bond returns to the table and plays a straight flush. Clearly, the risk of returning to the poker table was a calculated one.


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North By North West

Alfred Hitchcock rightfully earned himself the title of “The master of suspense” and we could have picked any number of his films in which the central character found themselves in peri. Whether it was Tippi Hedren being menaced by murderous seagulls in The Birds or an incapacitated James Stewart risking his life by snooping on the goings on in his apartmemt block in Rear Window.

The one film that really stands out for showing an innocent character suddenly thrust into a world of murder, risk and intrigue is North By North West.

In the 1959 film starring Cary Grant and James Mason the former plays a Donald Draper style advertising man who is mistaken for a spy and becomes embroiled in a plot to sneak microfilm containing government secrets out of the country.

The film’s most famous scene takes place in a house with the dramatic backdrop of Mount Rushmore where Grant must make a last ditch attempt to stop the secrets leaving the country. Again, his fate seems certain as the armed housekeeper discovers him hiding in wait. But there are a couple more surprises in store . . .

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The Martian

Ridley Scott is a director who is certainly no stranger to introducing high-risk plotlines into space dramas, as anyone whose seen Alien will testify. However, in The Martian he arguably created a drama in which risk is created from a far more static situation. In the film Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a member of an exploration party to Mars who is left for dead when the rest of the crew make an emergency departure to escape a devastating storm.

The outlook for Watney looks bleak until he uses considerable ingenuity to make water and grow potatoes to survive.

After a couple of abortive trips to rescue him only one, very dangerous, option remains. He must take off from Mars in a small landing craft to rendezvous with another spaceship called Hermes. If he fails it will mean certain death, and that seems like the most likely outcome as he realises he simply doesn’t have the power needed. But then, in his final, and most impressive piece of inventive thinking, he pierces his pressurised glove and glides through space to safety.

Source Code

In Source Code the plot similar to Groundhog Day, but the risks involved are far greater than simply wondering whether or not it’s going to be a long winter as predicted by Punxsutawny Pete. Directed by Dylan Jones, son of David Bowie and formerly known as Zowie, it’s a sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhall. As the film opens he wakes up on a Chicago commuter train as a school teacher, Sean Fentress although his previous memory is of being a soldier called Captain Colter Stevens.

Almost immediately a bomb goes off on the train killing everyone and he learns that a device called the Source Code has allowed him to occupy Fentress’s body for the eight minutes leading up to the explosion.

Time and time again he is sent back into the situation and repeatedly fails to catch and stop the bomber. Each time the tension grows stronger and we will him to finally get it right. Eventually he does, but there’s one more twist left in the tale. To find out what it is, you’ll have to check out the film.

Catch Me If You Can

For the final film, let’s take a look at Catch Me If You Can. Made in 2002, directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Leonardo Di Caprio it’s based on the true life story of Frank Abnagale, an inveterate risk-taker if ever there was one.

Throughout the film Abnagale pretends to be a Pan Am pilot and uses his disguise to forge and cash pay checks all over America. Always staying one step of the authorities, each time he fraudulently cashes a check he risks capture – and a long prison sentence.

He’s pursued by a fraud investigator for the FBI played by Tom Hanks while he’s also masquerading as a doctor – and if you think pretending to be a pilot’s serious just think about posing as a medic.

A pivotal scene comes when the two meet in a hotel and Tom Hanks believes he’s caught his man at last. But the ice-cool Di Caprio persuades him that he’s a secret service man also in pursuit of Abnagale and gets clean away – but not forever.

There’s also evidence at the end of the film that even the biggest risk takers have to call it a day eventually when Abnagale gets a job working for banks and other companies in their fraud-busting departments.

Of course some people would say that in Hollywood the biggest dangers of all is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a film that could well be a flop. So it would be fair to say that risk taking really does go all the way to the top!

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