The Chase ★★★★½

Penn creates the signature film that might not be the “French New Wave in America,” but instead a meshing of 1950s melodrama, early signs of New Wave influence (just watch those first few cuts during the escape, along with veteran Joseph LaShelle’s stunning use of Technicolor), and the truly hard-boiled cynicism of the 1960s firmly in lock. Essentially, Penn creates early network narrative film about power dynamics (rich vs poor, male vs female, young vs. old, white vs. black, individuals vs. mobs) and how people both intentionally and unintentionally exploit them, all because they think they are entitled to do so. He captures something of a Southern dialect that emphasizes grand gestures, but then uses the camera to find subtleties within these personalities—the motel room scene between Anna and Jake swings the camera like Antonioni.

What’s essential is how, as Robin Wood describes it (“the first ‘American apocalypse’ movie”), Penn uses the forces of American lingo, power, faith, and essentially ideology against justice. There are rarely ever wrongs that aren’t coded with some form of justification that seem to be falling apart while others are rising in their place (“Do you believe in the sexual revolution?”). Everyone is doing wrong by doing right, as the young copy the old but in a perverse way (despite Brando being still quite young, he has a sense of being an old actor here, or at least part of a generation with Angie Dickinson instead of Redford and Fonda). It’s a big studio production, but its closer to Nicholas Ray in the way Penn presents this crumbling empire, leaving us with Fonda exiting this picture and this world, off to whatever the new generation will embrace as the 50s go up in flames. Penn apparently hated this? Well QT hates Death Proof.