12 Brilliant Understated Movie Moments


In 2013, Pacific Rim blasted its unavoidable way into the movie world, arriving in a mad blitz of constant action, retina-melting visuals, and relentless noise. Although many audiences were distinctly unimpressed with the slight (it’s caught me on a generous day) lack of attention that was paid to plot or script, so immense was the scale of this movie that it pummelled through regardless. Anyone who doesn’t like it, it simply punches in the face. In fact, anyone who does like it, it also punches in the face – just for good measure. Punching stuff is just what this film does best.

But there was one part in among this cinematic riot that wasn’t like all the rest. Admittedly, it only happens as a result of anti-monster machine Gypsy Danger having just slammed its fist through the wall of an office tower – but for once it is not the obvious action of the sequence that is the focus: It is a short moment at the end of it.

After tearing through the inside of the building, the robot’s arm is now gradually slowing down, the noise dying away at the same time. Suddenly, the shot changes to a desk in a deserted office space, a Newton’s Cradle desk pendulum standing on its surface. From the right hand side of the screen, the fist slowly comes into view as the arm gradually nears the end of its reach. As it finally comes to a complete stop, the fist makes the just the slightest contact with the edge of the desk – and sets off the off the Newton’s Cradle.

For a few brief seconds – which have that sort of startled feeling that comes when you step out into a suddenly deserted street and wonder if you’ve missed the rapture – all other sound and motion stop, leaving nothing but the tiny swing and click of the desk pendulum’s miniscule arm, before the fist slowly retracts. The specific intention here behind every frame of decreasing action is the creation of that contrast with the rest of the film; the shot is meant to stand out for what it is not doing, rather than what it is. It is, in short, an example of a very common and hugely important filmmaking device: The understatement.