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Claustrophobes Need Not Apply: 16 Single Location Movies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 4, 2010 at 4:08AM

One of the basic tenets fledgling filmmakers are taught and encouraged towards in film school, at least when they're starting out, is to pick a simple, ideally single-setting location for practical reasons: budgets and lack thereof, permits, control, lighting ease, etc. If you're a broke film student with little means, the easiest way to make a film is to set it in one environment where you ideally have total control.
7

"Rear Window" (1954)
Another single setting film, another Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece. This time the setting is a Greenwich Village apartment complex where a New York City summer heatwave has caused the apartment dwellers to keep their windows open. Unsatisfied with simply restricting the setting of his film, Hitchcock presents himself with another challenge by restricting the film’s point of view to that of a single character: Jeff Jeffries (played by a perfectly cast Jimmy Stewart), a photographer with a broken leg stuck in a wheelchair. Confined to his apartment, Jeffries, who is occasionally visited by his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and his girlfriend (a delectable Grace Kelly), turns his attention to the various neighbors across the courtyard from him who he can see through his living room window. The lonely woman with no husband. The unconventional artist. The enamored newlyweds. The single musician who drinks. The childless couple who love their dog. A curvy ballet dancer. And of course the couple who are always fighting. One day the wife in this acrimonious couple disappears. Jeffries, looking into the couple’s apartment from the confines of his own living room, sees mounting evidence of what he thinks might be the wife’s murder at the hands of her husband (Raymond Burr). The setting of the apartment complex quickly becomes Jeffries’ world as he obsesses on finding more clues. At the same time, we the audience lose ourselves in Hitchcock’s economic storytelling, where no single detail is wasted. Looking over Jeffries’ shoulders through Hitchcock’s long shots of the apartment complex we search for clues in hopes of figuring the mystery out. And before we know it, Jeffries’ living room has become our own. [A]

"Tape" (2001)
He's a great theater actor, but on screen, Ethan Hawke can be a little bland. Unless, that is, he's working with Richard Linklater, for whom Hawke's constantly give his best screen performances. And few are better than than one he gives in "Tape," Linklater's adaptation of the Stephen Belber play. Set entirely in real-time, without ever leaving the faintly squalid motel room in which it's set, Hawke plays Vince, a small-town drug dealer out to force his oldest friend Jon (Robert Sean Leonard, another theater veteran rarely used well on screen) to confess to raping Vince's ex-girlfriend, Amy (Uma Thurman) when they were younger. The twists and turns rarely play to your expectations of the characters, and, for the most part, Linklater's camerawork, while not exactly his prettiest, is engaging, and for the most part prevents the film from feeling too stage-bound. But really, as is so often the case for a film set in one location, it's an actor's showcase, and all three stars have rarely been better. Something of a minor experiment in the director's canon, but an underrated one nonetheless. [B+]

"Deterrence" (2000)
There's a long tradition of the claustrophobic push-the-button nuclear thriller, from Sidney Lumet's "Fail Safe" to the more recent "Crimson Tide" and "Thirteen Days," but none have ever been quite as claustrophobic, at least in location, as Rod Lurie's "Deterrence." The directorial debut of former film critic Lurie, it's set in 2008, and sees a president on the election trail (Kevin Pollak) trapped in a diner in Colorado by a snowstorm, while in the midst of a bout of nuclear brinkmanship with an Iraq run by Uday Hussein, who have invaded Kuwait. While very much a first film, Lurie keeps the tension running, and while former stand-up Pollak isn't the most obvious president in cinema history, he's surprisingly good, and fits the character -- a Jewish VP unexpectedly elevated to the big seat by the earlier death of the commander-in-chief. But unfortunately, the film's mostly a misfire, principally because of an unconvincing supporting cast, most notably Sean Astin, abetted by a ludicrous goatee, as a small-town racist, and an increasingly silly plot. Things finally reach a peak with the ending, which isn't just morally highly questionable (and not really in a deliberate way), but also a complete narrative cheat. It's not uninteresting, but you're better off sticking with "Fail Safe." [C-]

"Dial M For Murder" (1954)
Okay, so we’re slightly cheating here as the film does have a couple of sequences outside the home of Margot (a luminous as usual Grace Kelly) and Tony (Ray Milland), but we’ll overlook that as “Dial M For Murder” is another thrilling “perfect murder” caper from Hitchcock. You see, Tony has found out that Margot has been been having an affair with dashing crime-fiction writer Mark (Robert Cummings) and roiling with resentment and jealousy he plans to have her killed. He stages an elaborate plot which includes blackmailing Swann (Anthony Dawson), an old Cambridge alumnus, to do the deed: Swann will wait behind the drapes one evening when Margot is guaranteed to be home, and Tony will call the house. When she goes for the phone, Swann will emerge and kill her. As usual, the set up seems impenetrable but a series of bad luck and missteps of course send the plan spinning out of the control. Hitchcock once again pulls off a bit of a marvel, taking a tale that on paper is about delayed calls and misplaced keys, and turning it into a verifiable nail biter. Intriguingly, he also manages to get the audience to sympathize (somewhat) with Tony; as the plan unravels, you can’t help but feel a tinge of pity for the guy. The film is also notable for not only being Hitchock’s second foray into color but also 3D. It’s no surprise that the use of 3D here is distracting (but frankly, no worse than the same kind of “in-your-face” antics that still happen today), but the director’s use of color (watch Kelly’s dress color change when she’s with Tony and Mark) is carefully thought out. Slightly stagy and over-explained at the start (it is based on a play after all), the film really whips into shape once the plot is set into motion and as usual, the sheer enjoyment takes you out of its confined setting. [B]

This article is related to: Feature, Films, 127 Hours


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