Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle – Mise-en-scene and Cinematography

May 21, 2013 10:00 am

This article is a macro study of a seven minute sequence from the move Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. The sequence chosen is the crucial battle in the middle of the film between the Angels and Seamus O’Grady, their nemesis. The purpose of this study is to analyse the cinematography and the mise-en-scene of the scene. The choices made to do with these elements will help give the audience a greater understanding of story, theme and character, even if the movie itself isn’t particularly ground breaking or meaningful.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) is the sequel to the film Charlie’s Angels (2000) and is an adaptation of a television series by the same name. It revolves around three female investigative agents named Natalie, Dylan and Alex, who work for Charles Townsend. In Full Throttle they are sent undercover to retrieve two missing rings which contain valuable information about every person in the FBI’s Witness Protection Programme. After five people in the programme turn up dead, the Angels must use their disguises, intelligence and combat skills to stop the perpetrator.

The characters in the sequence I am analysing include all three Angels and Seamus. All of the angels have very different personalities and characteristics.  Natalie is the stylish, graceful fighter, Dylan the careless rock and roll chick, and Alex, the sensible, conservative Angel. The character of Seamus is a shady figure from Dylan’s past and a member of the Irish mob. Seamus and Dylan had a relationship many years prior to her becoming an Angel in which Seamus killed a man. Dylan then had no choice but to turn him over to the authorities, landing her own name a place in the witness protection programme. He is back for revenge after years in prison and he thinks getting to Dylan’s nearest and dearest will do the trick. The shock of seeing this man leads Dylan on a physical and emotional journey, not only to save her own life, but to protect her family.

The sequence begins with Seamus entering the warehouse, an extreme close-up of his face, just after the angels have acquired the rings. The camera pans through the warehouse to reveal not only the enormous space but the only exit which Seamus is blocking, leaving the audience with a sense of entrapment. The dramatic element of this reunion is also enhanced by the non-diegetic sounds of trumpets. The camera makes a swooping movement to Dylan’s face to show her shock and fear at the man standing in front of her. The camera movement is more dramatic in places to show that emotion, and could be due to the fact that the director, McG, is famous for his work in the music video world. Seamus then begins to walk towards the Angels and is bathed in orange light to enhance the anger across his face.

The Angels are all wearing white, creating the symbolism of actual angels and to contrast with the darkness and fiery tones covering Seamus and their surroundings. The colours of the warehouse could be an effort to create and show the hell-like situation the Angels are in. At this point in the sequence Seamus is requesting that Dylan gives him the rings. She refuses until the camera pulls back to reveal the entrance of about twelve of Seamus’ large associates, all kitted out with various weapons. The camera emphasises these weapons with close-ups as the men come into the room. Diegetic sounds of scraping crowbars and rattling chains have been enhanced to ramp up the sense of fear. Reluctantly, Dylan gives in and Seamus takes the rings from her.

The Angels are more determined to get the rings back than ever as the fight ensues. There is so much going on as the camera cuts to and from each of the Angels as they take on their enemies. The most significant battle is between Dylan and Seamus as this is where the emotional battle lies. However, it is Natalie who is fighting to get the rings back. The character of Alex is cut to first as the camera pans upwards. She is climbing up a cage in order to lure some of the men away from the floor. The camera leans up slightly to follow Alex, enhancing the angle and danger at what she is doing. The music has become more enthusiastic and up-beat to match the intensity of the fight. The choice of music is also important. The song playing is ‘Firestarter’ by Prodigy. This is a good example of Intertextuality as the character of Dylan is played by Drew Barrymore, who starred in a film called ‘Firestarter’ when she was a child.

The next fight the camera cuts to is between Dylan and Seamus who are in heated battle. The fight choreography was done by Chun Yen, who was part of the team behind many Jackie Chan films, so the fighting has a very distinct style to it. This fight has purposefully been made to look grittier and dirtier than the others to emphasis the emotions behind it. During the fight there are certain camera angles that show you the entire warehouse and you are able to see all of the angels fighting at once. Again, to emphasis the vast space in the building but also to demonstrate how out-numbered the Angels are.

Finally, we get shots of Natalie’s fight as she recognises the man who is currently holding on to the rings they need to get back. She is shot with softer lighting and more sweeping camera movements to show her fighting style as an Angel, but mainly to create a sense of accomplishment as the last shot is of her holding the rings again. The Angels then escape the warehouse and the entire set is visible as they burst through the roof. Before this the camera is set outside the warehouse, calm and quiet to contrast the noise from the fight. The camera is set low on the ground to show the height at which they land from and then pans behind them as they run into a maze-like area of buildings.

There is an extreme long shot of Seamus perusing the Angels after he jumps from the warehouse. He breaks his wrist on landing but shakes it off like he doesn’t care. This choice was made to add to his ‘bad guy’ persona and make him un-human in a way. He doesn’t care what he has to do or go through to exact revenge. The ground is then set alight by the Angels to try and delay Seamus as they make their escape. A camera angle that is low and wide shows the audience that the area is completely blocked off, allowing some hope to seep in that the Angels will actually escape, and that there is no way Seamus will follow them through it. Again there is lots of red and yellow to symbolise danger, and literal fire to add to the ‘nightmare’ aspect of what Dylan is feeling.

An explosion then separates the Angels, Natalie and Alex running to safety whilst Dylan gets caught behind. She then has to watch as Seamus walks through the wall of fire to get her. This is done in slow-motion with loud music, non-diegetic trumpets, to emphasise the terror. However, Seamus doesn’t kill Dylan but he threatens to kill Natalie and Alex. A flashback is used here to show the Angels at the beginning of the film, happy and laughing together. This builds up Dylan’s emotional response to what’s happening which ultimately results in her decision to leave the Angels.

The camera cuts to Natalie and Alex in the speedboat as they wait for Dylan, the camera panning up as she jumps from the pier into the boat. Dylan assures them everything’s fine and they speed off across the water, with one final shot of Dylan looking back to the pier. Natalie then shows the girls the rings, confirming for them and the audience that the mission was accomplished and giving some sense of relief, and that it was all worth it in the end.

The editing used in this section of the film is very dramatic, perhaps more so than the rest of the film, because it is the height of the emotional journey for Dylan, coming face to face with the man she put in prison years earlier. Most cuts are quick and sharp, on to the next thing as soon as possible. This will keep the audience invested and wondering where they are going next.

The cinematography and mise-en-scene used add to the audience’s excitement in watching the film and give them a more in depth look at the characters and their bond as a family. This is all happening without the audience realising it at first glance, but all of the choices made were for a reason, from the colour of their clothes to who each Angel has to fight and the placement of music. CHARLIE'S ANGELS 2

I feel this macro study has proven that no matter what type or style of film it is, choices in the way it is shot and decorated contribute greatly to the audience’s viewing experience. Even a film like Charlie’s Angels which doesn’t take itself seriously can have real meaning and heart in it if the director takes the time to strategically place certain things throughout a scene, even an intense fight scene such as this one.

By Rachel Brewer

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