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“Breakdown’ – A Surprise Sleeper in ’97, a Masterpiece Today


Jonathan Mostow’s “Breakdown” (1997) stars Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan as Jeff and Amy Taylor, a Massachusetts couple on a highway journey and shifting to San Diego.

The opening credit set the tone correctly, as composer Basil Poledouris’ percussive rating, completely matched by the strains of a highway map, taking us into dry, unforgiving desert vistas and barren roads. The first scene reveals Amy, whereas Jeff takes his eyes off the highway for only a second and almost hits a truck.

The pressure begins at a gasoline station and by no means ceases for the rest of the movie.

A tense, seemingly random encounter with Earl (M.C. Gainey), a truck driver at a gasoline station, is the very first thing to go flawed for the Taylors. Then the Taylors’ Grand Jeep Cherokee has a breakdown on the aspect of the highway, main them to placing religion in a complete stranger named “Red” (J.T. Walsh) and trusting that every little thing will end up high quality, because it often does for this couple.

The Taylors are driving a pleasant, costly automobile however aren’t aware of automobiles and are used to consolation. They’re about to have the worst 24 hours of their lives.

Echoes of “Duel” (1971), “The Vanishing” (1988), “The Hitcher” (1986) and, a lot later, “Joy Ride” (2001) and “Red Lights”(2004) come to thoughts. Mostow, who authored the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Sam Montgomery, threw out any line or second that would have come throughout as padded or pointless.

There’s merely no filler right here, as each scene has a objective.

The seemingly pointless, tossed off element of a $90,000.00 jackpot on the aspect of a donut wrapper turns into a key plot thread within the second act. Mostow is telling us to look at intently and embrace the determined, wide-eyed perspective of Russell’s character.

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Russell is a perfect Everyman. He has form eyes that convey vulnerability, however he’s powerful sufficient to be plausible when Jeff finds the desire to struggle again. Like the comparably lean and exhilarating “The Fugitive” (1993), it by no means leaves the attitude of its tortured protagonist, and, for a short spell, we query Jeff the identical approach we’re initially not one hundred pc certain about Dr. Richard Kimball.

Here, Jeff doesn’t have the equal of a Lt. Sam Gerard to vow that justice will ultimately prevail. Jeff is on his personal. The financial institution scene is an train in Hitchcockian visible paranoia: observe the digital camera angles that appear to be judging Jeff.

A really very long time passes earlier than our hero will get the higher hand and, even then, by no means has a lot of a bonus. Jeff is up towards probably the most loathsome villains because the crew that shot up Officer Alex J. Murphy in “RoboCop” (1987).

A disturbing contact that stands out – as soon as Jeff enters the villain’s lair, corresponding to it’s, it’s not out of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) or resembling a battle room or the den of a serial killer. Nope, its plain, extraordinary and homey.

The “dangerous guys” of “Breakdown” are particularly unsettling as a result of they’re recognizable, out within the open and carefree about what they do.

Walsh, the late, magnificent character actor, is terrifying, chilly, imposing and mysterious as Red; in different phrases, the right villain. Because Walsh isn’t enjoying the speaking killer, we lean in each time he utters a phrase.

Watch him intently in the course of the third act scenes set in a barn – even with out dialog, Walsh is conveying a lot. Walsh died at the age of 54 in 1998. “Breakdown” was one among his final nice performances. As actors go, he was one among our greatest. Also noteworthy is Gainey, completely scary and each bit as important to pulling us in as Walsh.

“Breakdown” was the most effective movies produced by Martha and Dino DeLaurentis throughout this era. The final title tends to carry up reminiscences of massive funds flops/cult classics like “King Kong” (1976), “Flash Gordon” (1980) and “Dune” (1984). However, this was a very good period for them, as different worthy works included “Army of Darkness” and “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” (each 1993).

“Breakdown” opened early in the summertime of 1997, and emerged a sleeper hit with legs that caught round by way of nice phrase of mouth.

FAST FACT: “Breakdown” earned a solid $50 million at the US box office in 1997. That yr’s greatest hit? “Men in Black” with $250 million.

The movie was acclaimed in ’97 however feels at the moment like a tight-as-a-drum masterpiece. Nevertheless, I’ve solely watched it just a few instances, because it has at all times succeeded in placing me in a complete state of tension.

Here’s a loopy factor to confess: every time I watch this, it must be from begin to end, as I can’t bear to depart it on the midpoint and never see Jeff’s journey via to the tip, each due to how good the movie is and since I don’t need to abandon Russell.

Mostow’s movie creates a sense of dread that’s nearly insufferable and unrelenting. Aside from the antiquated mobile phone and use of a cellphone ebook, nothing right here feels dated.

An early scene the place Jeff goers to Belle’s Diner and may’t discover his spouse concludes with a crane shot that signifies the whole isolation Jeff is feeling. Everything the 1994 American remake of “The Vanishing” did flawed, “Breakdown” does proper.

Mostow’s movie has modifying, sound design, cinematography and pacing which might be as excellent because the performances.

Here is a terrific assortment of character actors, all ideally and correctly assigned: Rex Linn because the trying-to-be-helpful Sheriff and Jack McGee because the nice-until-pushed diner proprietor are particularly vivid.

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The first act set-up grabs us as a result of nothing feels inevitable – we all know the villain is Walsh’s Red and we’ve seen him drive away with Jeff’s spouse however…did Jeff someway get the flawed man?

Unlike in “The Vanishing,” the villain isn’t established immediately, and we’re caught with Russell’s sympathetic however sort of annoying protagonist – we’re attending to know him within the midst of a disaster and may’t at all times belief his selections or the gentle vanity wherein he presents himself to the locals.

We’re initially uncertain if Amy’s disappearance is a giant conspiracy (as we, like Jeff, start to mistrust all the great ole’ boy figures within the plot) or if a criminal offense has solely been dedicated by simply a few characters. For a movie with acquainted plot parts (the “Duel” comparability is very deserving), the viewers gained’t get forward of the story any greater than Russell’s Jeff will outthink his opponents.

As blood thirsty and attention-grabbing as the ultimate second is, the movie, earns it. There’s a closing element that bugs me concerning the final scene: is it actually over for the antagonist and can the cops imagine his aspect of the story?

After all, contemplating the place Mostow concludes the narrative, doesn’t the proof in view current extra questions than solutions? It appears “Breakdown,’ even as soon as it ends, by no means loosens its agonizing maintain on us.

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