‘The Raid: Redemption” (Gareth Evans, 2012’
When I tell people how much I love “Dredd” (because I do), the first question is always: “Isn’t it just like ‘The Raid?'” “The Raid,” given the unnecessary “Redemption” subtitle for domestic release, is an Indonesian splatter-fu™ actioner directed by a Welsh dude who introduced the movie at South by Southwest by asking the audience if they loved violence. Like “Dredd,” “The Raid” concerns a bunch of law enforcement officers who enter a seemingly impossible situation — but instead of 200 floors, there are a dozen or so stories full of villainous gangsters. You can tell that “The Raid” doesn’t have quite the budget that “Dredd” does, but the two share a gleeful mean-spiritedness and, of course, levels of violence that you’re amazed snuck by the ratings board.
‘Die Hard’ (John McTiernan, 1988)
The ultimate “bad guys in a building” movie, John McTiernan’s still-unparalleled masterpiece spawned its own sub-genre, as a bunch of movies attempted the “Die Hard” on a formula, to very limited success (many of these, like Sylvester Stallone’s “Daylight” and Joss Whedon’s spec “Suspension” were set on a single location). “Die Hard” was the story of a New York City cop (Bruce Willis at his most fresh-faced and goofily affable) trying desperately to keep his family together, so he goes to some lame-ass holiday party at the office where his wife works. Of course, that’s when a band of bank robbers, posing as terrorists and led by lugubrious Alan Rickman, crash the party. The rest is a set of high-stakes, high-rise thrills, choreographed brilliantly by McTiernan to maximize intensity while also poking fun at the indestructible action heroes of the period
‘The Party’ (Blake Edwards, 1968)
Maybe the greatest single-setting comedy ever. While director Blake Edwards and star Peter Sellers created a number of wholly original and memorable characters together (including but not limited to the Inspector Clouseau character from “A Shot in Dark,” which would spin off a series of “Pink Panther” films), “The Party” might be their most impressive collaboration, about an Indian actor accidentally invited to a wild Hollywood party. If you overlook Sellers’ questionable “brownface” routine (not quite as damning or dated as his “yellowface” character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), it’s hard not to fall for “The Party” — a showcase for Sellers’ comedic genius thanks to a series of loosely knitted-together set pieces and a loose structural setting that allows for all sorts of zany madness.
‘Rope’ (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)
With “Rope,” the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock set some very strict technical limitations for himself. Since the film was based on a play by Patrick Hamilton (adapted by Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurentis and Ben Hecht), Hitchcock wanted to maintain its structural integrity and talky sense of flow, while kicking up the cinematic zest — so he shot the movie in a series of long, unbroken takes. To the untrained eye, the movie comes across as a single “take,” even though there are new takes every ten minutes or so and the cuts are occasionally easy to spot. The single setting and swooping camera only adds to the claustrophobic intensity and sexual tension, with the story taking its inspiration from the 1924 case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who kidnapped and killed a 14-year-old boy while attending the University of Chicago’s law school. While the setting and structure rightfully get most of the praise, the performance from Jimmy Stewart, as a professor, is the actor at his most wonderfully deranged.
‘Tape’ (Richard Linklater, 2001)
Ever the restless experimentalist, Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater, the man behind everything from broad Jack Black comedy “School of Rock” to animated Philip K. Dick adaptation “A Scanner Darkly,” tackled a single-location drama in the form of “Tape,” adapted by Stephen Belber from his own play. The film has three characters — Ethan Hawke plays a drug dealer who rents a hotel room for his friend (Robert Sean Leonard), a documentary filmmaker in town for a local film festival. While the two get to talking, it is revealed that Leonard slept with Hawke’s girlfriend, after she had broken up with Hawke. Eventually, it’s revealed that it might have been rape, a revelation that becomes significantly more complicated when the girlfriend (Uma Thurman, at the time married to Hawke) shows up. Awkward! In addition to being a doggedly single-setting movie (you see the inside of the crummy hotel room and that’s about it) it also unfolds in “real time,” meaning that we watch things unfold as they would have in real life, a gimmick utilized by a Johnn Depp thriller called “Nick of Time” a few years earlier and popularized on the Fox action show “24.” “Tape” is even more impressive because it sticks to that set-up with ruthless conviction – and that it’s as entertaining as it is, to boot.
’12 Angry Men’ (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
Unlike many of the single-location movies on this list, which start out as plays (sometimes too obviously), “12 Angry Men” started out in 1954 as a television movie (or a “tele-play,” back when they used to do that sort of thing), then was adapted for the stage, and then, in 1957, it became a classic major motion picture directed by the irrepressible Sidney Lumet. The movie, as the title suggests, concerns twelve jurors tasked with deciding the fate of a man accused of murder. Thanks to the consistently amazing cast (consisting of Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden and Ed Begley among others) and peerless screenplay by Reginald Rose (who wrote all previous versions), “12 Angry Men” is absolutely thrilling, even if it is a bunch of dudes shouting at each other in a room. (According to the vaulted “internet,” only three minutes of the entire movie’s running time is spent outside of the jury room.) This might be the high water mark all single location movies aspire to.
‘The Breakfast Club’ (John Hughes, 1985)
Five teenagers are assigned Saturday detention, with each student representing a recognizably identifiable social group (the nerd, the goth, the jock, the prep, the bully). They all grow to recognize each other as individuals, separate from the labels of their peer group, and learn from each other as a result. Pop music plays. The end. From such a simple premise came one of the greatest high school movies ever — and all from a single location. According to Hughes it was the movie’s contained scope that convinced the investors to let him direct the film (instead of installing another director at the helm); it’s also part of what makes the movie so memorable (although, really, did anyone’s library have that much neon, even in the eighties?). The only downside to “The Breakfast Club” is the cast’s limited racial and cultural spread, which also softens the movie’s themes of universality because, well, white people already know each other pretty well. Fist pump!
‘Carnage’ (Roman Polanski, 2011)
Roman Polanski has always been obsessed with single location settings — his beloved “apartment trilogy” of “Repulsion” (1965), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and “The Tenant” (1976) barely leave the compact living quarters of its main characters — reveling in the way that the psychological angst can manifest itself physically if trapped within ultra-tight confines. But his most single location-est movie is probably last year’s “Carnage,” which doesn’t leave the tony Brooklyn apartment (obviously a set, since a series of legal struggles has made it illegal for Polanski to set foot in America) of John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster, who talk to fellow parents Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz about a schoolyard bullying incident. Sometimes the plot mechanizations that churn in order to keep all of the characters in that apartment feel forced, bordering on the contrived, but Polanski’s lively direction makes for a slightly more cinematic feel (it was based on a play by Yasmina Reza, who co-adapted with Polanski). Like the films in the apartment trilogy, it makes you claustrophobic, but for entirely different reasons.
‘Bug’ (William Friedkin, 2006)
Many declared this summer’s outré “Killer Joe” as the director’s big comeback film, but that’s discounting 2006’s “Bug,” a brilliant bit of psychological horror written by “Killer Joe’s” killer playwright Tracy Letts (both were based on plays by Letts). Like “Tape,” the film takes place inside a dingy motel room, occupied by a pair of lunatics/drug addicts (played, terrifically, by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon in a pair fearless performances). They also think that, by the end of the movie, some kind of crazy bug is scratching trying to get out of their skin. What makes “Bug” so effective, besides the performances (Shannon was reprising a role he did onstage), is the movie’s psychology — the whole thing could be happening inside the feverish dreamscape of one of the characters’. Even when things are looking their grimmest, you can’t discount the fact that it could just be a fantasy.
‘Buried’ (Rodrigo Cortes, 2010)
It’s like someone saw the “buried alive” sequence from “Kill Bill, Part 2” (arguably the highlight of that entire movie) and said, “That would be good for a whole movie!” And then did it. In the film, the impossibly handsome Ryan Reynolds is an army contractor in Iraq who is captured by insurgents and buried alive, left with only a Blackberry and a couple of other items (lighter, flask, flashlight). When filmmakers say “we never leave Reynolds, we’re trapped in the box for 90 minutes,” you expect some cut-aways, maybe, or some flashly camera angles that make it seem less real, but Cortes goes for a kind of heightened naturalism that really puts you, the viewer, in the casket, as our hero quickly runs out of air. The intensity of the movie was amplified by the fact that the screening I went to was in a basement so when the movie ended people didn’t just leave; they fled.