Damien Chazelle is an immensely talented filmmaker. His love for classic Hollywood movies, mainly musicals, has been influential in rejuvenating the passion for old-school filmmaking and jazz. La La Land cemented his personage as a lover of pure cinema, which deservedly won him an Oscar for Best Director. His new movie, a short film, The Stunt Double, ushers a new form of storytelling.
Shot entirely on an iPhone 11 Pro, the film explores the possibilities of Vertical Cinema. As opposed to the general landscape aspect ratio, the film has a vertical 9:16 view, intended to pitch the powerful, versatile cameras of the current breed of Apple iPhone 11 models.
My thoughts on this film can be bifurcated into:
a) how much I enjoyed The Stunt Double merely as a film; and
b) what is the viability of Vertical Cinema for its intended group of young filmmakers?
This article focuses on the first aspect, i.e., examining Damien Chazelle’s movie as a film-watching experience. Regarding the feasibility of Vertical Cinema and its possible future, you can click here.
The Stunt Double Illustrates the Aching, Undervalued Job of a Stunt Man
As a guy, I have a great fondness for action movies. Whether it is conceptual action (The Matrix, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), or pure, blistering whoopassery (The Raid, John Wick), I adore the genre. I was 10-years old when I first discovered that stunt scenes are not always performed by the actors, but by trained professionals.
Though it broke my heart back then, my appreciation for the stunt guys has grown substantially. Damien Chazelle’s The Stunt Double pays tribute to the rough, undervalued life of stuntmen, who would do all the dangerous stuff and get the lead actors the limelight.
The film begins in the middle of an action scene in a high rise. Two bad guys are chasing the hero (the stunt double!), who jumps off the building, and accidentally breaks the handle of his chute. As he falls, nearing the end of his life, the narrative flashes back to his early days.
We see him young and enthusiastic, performing stunts in a variety of film genres (drama, adventure, western, musical, espionage). Though, every time, his daredevilry is short-changed with the flattery going to the actors he would perform for.
Over the decades, we discern his plummeting fondness for his profession, for he would never get the appreciation he deserves. Ultimately, the story comes back to the free fall, where someone in a very fulfilling twist saves him. All of it happens in 8 and a half minutes, and it goes at rocket speed, filling your mind and heart with glorious movie magic.
Tom McComas plays the stunt double, who himself, is a very seasoned stunt man. He has 185 film credits on IMDb, including dozens of popular movies such as The Dark Knight, Deadpool 2, Live By Night, Fast Five, and Mission Impossible. His performance is excellent. His facial expressions essay the unrecognized journey of his character very well, and it is easy to feel for him, in all the avatars, he gets to play.
The film’s central message on how people clap when the hero beats the villain, without ever recognizing whom they are roaring for, has barely done anything comes out very well. The movie emphasizes giving appreciation for the real action heroes who take severe risks and sometimes even end up sacrificing their lives. (Check the mortality rate of the stunt doubles)
Damien Chazelle’s Film is a Treat for the Ears and the Eyes
Besides its urgent plot, The Stunt Double works as a glorious homage to the old-school Hollywood movies. The film is magnificent to look at, even with its intended Vertical aspect ratio. The vertical cinemascope allows more image upright that is very skillfully used to produce some great results. Take a look at the following shots:
The cinematography is done by Linus Sandgren, the Oscar-winning DOP and Damien’s long-term collaborator. Much like La La Land, Damien, and Linus have recreated the magic of Hollywood classics. Through the series of flashbacks showcasing the stunt double’s prolonged career, they have used the potential of an iPhone 11 Pro to its best advantage.
While the Ultra-wide camera is used superbly for the free-falling shots on the high rise, I loved what the duo has accomplished in the western sequence. The overhead shots and closeups are magnificent. Lorne Balfe (Mission Impossible: Fallout) has composed the music for the film, and it elevates the experience to a different level altogether.
The Stunt Double Has Incredible Repeat Value
In my previously reviewed short films, I have emphasized the importance of repeat value. Short movies, in general, are a very contemplative experience, but they are hard to enjoy the second time. The Stunt Double, in the hands of Damien Chazelle, and his collaborators, is an amazing cinematic experience, even on the phone.
It delivers its message effectively but never falls short on entertainment. Every frame is wallpaper worthy, encompassing classic setpieces from diverse Hollywood films (Indiana Jones, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, The Predator, and more).
The acting, by Tom McComas, is delightful. And it is genuinely incredible how efficiently an iPhone has been used to make a seamless film (except one conspicuous match cut) through all iPhone software (Filmic Pro, Lumafusion, and more).
Although the film is intended to pitch Apple’s current breed of iPhone 11 models, for which I have my specific thoughts, merely as a film, this is a wonderful experience that can be enjoyed repeatedly.
Rating: 4 / 5
Once you have seen The Stunt Double, you can also watch its making.
So, how do you feel about the vertical cinema experience? Did you experience vertigo during the high rise shots? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.