Getaway starts with an impressive exercise in economy of language as Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) steals a souped-up Mustang under duress from a mysterious voice (John Voight) on his cell phone. We learn from short flashbacks that the caller has kidnapped our hero’s wife (Rebecca Budig). We gather from his authoritative tone that he’s planned every detail of this criminal joyride. From the line, “It’s been a long time since you’ve driven,” we piece together that Brent, a former auto racer, is the perfect pawn for an elaborate road heist. From the way director Courtney Solomon conveys all this information in the midst of a high-speed pursuit, we know we’re in for one hell of a thrill ride.
Consider the scene in which Brent is asked to roll down a flight of stairs into a crowded skating rink and then knock down a podium all the while eluding the authorities. Most action thrillers would milk the destruction of property, shaking the camera after every collision to increase our sense of mayhem. Getaway focuses instead on Brent’s desperate efforts not to kill anyone, reminding us of the driver behind each death-defying stunt. This makes every crash all the more spectacular as police cars suddenly leap into the air or ram into other vehicles so as to block circulation.
My favourite bit, though, consists of a sustained point-of-view shot that puts us into the driver’s seat as our hero chases down the bad guy for a final confrontation. Nothing outrageous happens, yet my heart got pumping with the same giddy anticipation as when Vin Diesel’s crew took their bikes and muscle cars onto a highway bridge to take down a tank in Fast and Furious 6 (2013). This just goes to show how much excitement Solomon can generate with a single cinematic device. Don’t let the haters fool you: his movie delivers some truly creative stuff, especially for what boils down to a bottle production.
Budgeted at only $18 million (a tenth of what Fast and Furious 6 cost), Getaway spends almost its entire runtime in or around Brent’s stolen Mustang. This is not to say that the film forgoes a plot but rather that it limits the narrative to our hero’s single-minded perspective. Screenwriters Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker maintain the tension throughout by unfolding the villain’s ploy in such a way that we never get a complete picture until the end but can figure out every increment a minute or two before it becomes obvious.
It also helps that Ethan Hawke, on whom the camera is practically fixed, specialises in sustaining heightened emotional states for the duration of a film (see 2001’s Training Day or Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy). Similarly to Getaway, the guy never blows our collective minds like Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man (2008) or, well, Iron Man, but he does stay true to the established concept all the way through to the end credits. What’s more, he’s got a good rapport with his co-star Selena Gomez, playing makeshift father figure to her spoiled teen hacker.
A lot has been said about the Disney starlet’s artificial transition into adulthood, and, sure enough, her nameless sidekick throws in a couple of gratuitous cuss words after getting tricked into grabbing the passenger seat. However, it seems to me more important to acknowledge that Gomez gives a good performance in Getaway, allowing her character to come off petty and immature without delving into Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) territory. Like Hawke, she lends some much-needed nuance and vulnerability to an otherwise standard action role.
As a result, I couldn’t help but cheer when our heroes finally turn the tables on the baddy. Sure, Getaway plays fast and loose with the logistics of its climax, with henchmen indulging in a trade when they could just pull the trigger and the police turning out surprisingly forgiving of attempted vehicular manslaughter. I’m also amused at the magical hacking powers bestowed on Gomez’ character, who can reprogram a web cam by fiddling with its lens. By that point, though, little could take away from my elation at an action flick that knows to cut to the chase and never let go.