A familiar phenomenon that seems hellish is actually quite helpful. To Hollywood. Filmmakers use gridlock to paint a modern urban pastiche, trigger violence or reveal shades of a character. Foreign films (Claire Denis' "Vendredi Soir" and Jacques Tati's "Playtime," to name two) often romanticize traffic jams as opportunities for the characters to slow down and think. But in American movies, particularly ones set in and around Los Angeles, roadway clogs just make people do crazy stuff.
— Pamm Higgins
"The Italian Job" (2003)
In a retread of the 1969 British classic, Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) et al pull off the heist of their distinguished burglary careers by engineering a downtown L.A. traffic jam that sets up the film's defining subway tunnel car chase.
"Gone in 60 Seconds" (2000)
With police on his tail and minutes to go before delivering the last of 50 cars boosted in one night, Randall "Memphis" Raines (Nicolas Cage) encounters a clotted freeway but sails his '67 Shelby off a tow truck loading ramp and into the clear.
"Falling Down" (1993)
As a fly buzzes at his neck during a jam, William Foster, a.k.a. D-Fens, (Michael Douglas) grows tenser and tenser, eventually abandoning his grim clunker and terrorizing the city with a baseball bat (among other more formidable weapons).
"Five Easy Pieces" (1970)
Blue-collar anti-hero Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) comes to a standstill en route to work, exits his car, snarls and climbs on a truck carrying a piano. He plays it brilliantly, unveiling a new truth about the dusty oil worker.
"L.A. Story" (1991)
TV weatherman Harris K. Telemacher (Steve Martin) elevates a digital freeway sign to guru status when its little yellow lights spell out directives for his life in chaotic Los Angeles.
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