Breakdown (1997 United States)

breakdownWhen this was released there was talk of writer/director Johnathan Mostow being the new Spielberg. I have to confess that if you want to compare him to anyone then James Cameron would be the best comparison. Cameron is a director who works best with tight scripts and small budgets, and ironically Mostow went on to direct Terminator 3 .

I think it might be a bad idea to make any more Terminator movies, though I digress.
You can understand where the Spielberg comparisons come from though. Aged only 26, Mostow wrote and directed this impressive thriller that makes a couple of nods toward Duel. Yeah, it’s not an original film because there’s a few moments that remind you of Deliverance and The Vanishing but there’s only so many times you can take a plot , reshuffle it and come up with something original.

The “car breaks down in the middle of nowhere” template stopped becoming original in the 1970s when it was used many times. Jeff and Amy Taylor breakdown in the desert and Amy gets a lift to the next town from an affable truck driver who promises he’ll drop her off at the nearest diner. Jeff finds the cause of the breakdown, fixes it, then drives to the diner expecting to meet Amy there. Only thing is she isn’t and when meeting the truck driver, Red Barr, he denies having met the couple, never mind giving her a lift. What a bastard eh?

But it is the bastards that make the world of movies such fun. Jeff then waves down a passing sheriff called Boyd (Rex Linn) and explains what’s happened but after making a few checks and talking to the very plausible Red, Boyd is unable to help any further and suggests that Jeff should visit his deputy to report his wife missing. Jeff follows Boyd’s advice but this turns out to be just the start of his long and very dangerous search for his missing wife.

Breakdown-1997-SiteThere’s also an ominous sense of paranoia that develops as the universal lack of concern or help that Jeff receives starts to make his experience appear to be part of a conspiracy and leads one to question how close the links are between Red, Boyd and the unsympathetic people at the diner. When the story moves beyond this point, the reality of what’s happening soon becomes horrifyingly clear. Doesn’t that premise sound intriguing ? It sure does, and I was thoroughly involved for much of this cinematic journey as the plot takes some sharp and exciting bends. A very impressive road trip. The contribution from Kathleen Quinlan as the wife is limited as she disappears early on from the action and only re-appears at the finale.

However the climax is slightly disappointing as the main character – who the audience can totally relate to – becomes maybe too much of a courageous action hero.It’s not a totally unconvincing character arc, as in something like 28 Days Later, but I don’t think it was an utterly convincing one either, but as in many of these stories, if you think about the details too much everything collapses. For example, why didn’t Jeff bother to phone a breakdown service at the start of the movie since it’s shown later that he did posses a cell phone?

But I won’t nit pick since Breakdown is an involving and entertaining thriller. This is an unpretentious film that, because of the strength of its plot, some good acting performances and a few well orchestrated action sequences, easily keeps its audience fully engrossed from start to finish. It’s beautifully paced and Kurt Russell is in his element at playing a nice guy/ every man character. By the end of it all I felt suitably spent and exhausted. And relieved.

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