July marks the year’s midway point, at which time critics take stock of the best movies to grace our screens to date. Countless lists are popping up across the internet, but none contain the actual best movie of 2018, a thrilling and ambitious silent film that evokes shades of ’70s-era gangster pictures with a touch of “Mission: Impossible.”
I’m referring, of course, to the footage of a man and woman attempting to evade arrest at a convenience store in Alberta, Canada. The video, which went viral late last week after a CTV station published it online, accomplishes in less than three minutes what many movies fail to in more than 90. Its characters ― 29-year-old Brittany Burke and 28-year-old Richard Pariseau, who had reportedly used a stolen credit card to buy a can of soda and thought they could flee law enforcement ― are emblems of ingenuity, a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. We can envisage their entire personalities simply by watching their relentless, and ultimately futile, quest to find a secret escape route.
What makes this film superlative-worthy is not just Brittany and Richard’s chutzpah ― plenty of people would go to great lengths to avoid the Five-O, even in Canada, where cops probably ask if suspects want poutine, eh? No, what makes this film superlative-worthy is how spectacularly well-edited it is. The tension is Hitchcockian.
Let’s break it down.
The scene opens in media res; our antiheroes have already been caught. They stand near the entrance with a policeman and the store owner’s husband, who to the untrained eye looks like a plainclothes civilian taking the law’s side. (I will hereby refer to him as “civilian.”) But Brittany and Richard won’t be thwarted so soon. They attempt to burst through the door ― the obvious first route ― but end up tumbling to the ground in a heap with the cop, tearing the oversized white T-shirt that Richie Rich is wearing from his back. Meanwhile, the store clerk stands idly behind the register. Just another day on the job.
We don’t need to see the skirmish play out in full to know that this shit is going to be an adrenaline doozy.
The video cuts to Richard, now shirtless.
In a classic action-movie cut, he dashes out of the frame and into a new shot, entering a storage room at the back of the shop. He searches for an exit.
The next shot cuts back to the aisles, with Brittany’s lingering tussle positioned on the far left of the screen ― a visual Easter egg, as our eyes drift directly to the center, where all is quiet on the Western Front until Richard bursts back into the showroom.
The overhead camera sits stationary as Richard’s long legs carry him to the end of an aisle. He at first feels protected by the bags of candy he limply threatens to throw at the policeman, who has turned his attention from Brittany to Richard’s naked torso. At this point, Brittany, who appears to be constrained by the civilian ― go home, sir! ― bobs out of the frame.
Near the wall of cold drinks, things are getting serious. The cop marches toward Richard, who drops his confectionery weapon upon seeing a taser pointed in his direction. We still can’t hear what’s happening, but we don’t need to: Richard quickly descends to the (presumably dirty) floor. The tension is mounting. Don’t tase him, bro.
Here, the cop reaches down toward him, and Richard springs up, startling the officer. But wait. The scene cuts from a wide shot surveying the store to a close-up that shows Brittany striding toward her accomplice. In the far background, the civilian opens the door, ostensibly expecting backup to arrive. Brittany observes the man as the cop waves her away, Richard hunched on his knees before rising, getting tased and flopping back down like a wooden board.
The most suspenseful movies keep us wondering about the action unfolding on the periphery, so the scene rapidly cuts away from Richie and the officer altogether. After addressing the civilian near the doorway, Brittany turns around and walks deeper into the store. A wide shot reveals that she is heading for the storage room that Richard scampered through earlier. Great minds. Or something.
The action cuts to the center of the store, where the civilian is still using a cellphone and Richard is still wrestling with the cop. What is Brittany doing? We know she has a strategy, but our inability to witness it firsthand creates stress. Cue Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” strings. Richard breaks free of the officer’s prying grip, dashing again through the aisles toward the cash register. He makes it all the way to the front door before being pinned down by the civilian and the officer. This criminal can’t catch a break. They struggle as the cashier looks on, still unfazed.
And now here we go. Time for the goods.
Twenty-one seconds have passed since we saw Brittany disappear from the showroom, enough time for her to have pulled off God knows what. In the next cut, she emerges from the depths of a darkened bathroom in the storage closet, skipping the steps that failed Richard earlier. Aha! She climbs up toward the ceiling, where a camera happens to be perched. Is she hiding? Even better: She is crawling into the ceiling.
Once she clambers in and vanishes from sight, the video cuts back to the front door, where the cop is again straddling Richard until he sinks to the floor. He pins him to the ground like they are on a wrestling mat or in a slow-burning gay porn outtake. As this is happening, we know that Brittany is somewhere in the roofing. Where she thinks she’s going is anyone’s guess. Does she hope it will lead her outdoors? To another store? No matter what, you have to admire the gumption.
Hitchcock once said that a bomb suddenly going off underneath a table is a surprise, whereas tangible suspense is created in the audience’s awareness that the bomb is already sitting under the table. That’s what Brittany’s disappearance is. With the cop distracted by Richard’s refusal to go down quietly, we know that she could be close to finding a way out of their situation. We need to know where Brittany is!
The scene cuts from Richard and the cop to a static shot of what seems like an empty store. You can imagine tumbleweed rolling across the floor, like it might a dirt road before a standoff in a Western.
And then, the big kahuna. The grand finale we’ve all been waiting for. Brittany makes her triumphant return, crashing through the ceiling and tumbling to the floor. She’s only wearing one shoe. Multiple cops have arrived.
By this point, it’s time to give up. Even Brittany knows it. She traipses to the end of the aisle, raising her arms in surrender and diving onto the floor. Two policemen parade Brittany outdoors while four continue to restrain Richard.
Miraculous. Thelma Schoonmaker would be proud of the tension conveyed in the smart cuts this video uses. At every turn, we glean a bit more insight into this duo’s resourcefulness, however misguided it may be. There’s nary a second of dead weight. The video uses common film grammar to give us the tools to plug in details excised from the final product. Blockbuster editors, especially those of the superhero variety, could learn a thing or two from its economy.
According to CTV, Richard faces 11 charges, including resisting arrest and using a stolen credit card, and Brittany faces three charges, including obstructing an officer and mischief.
Mischief makes for all the best movies.