Film Reviews:


(Jonathan Mostow, US, 1997)

Breakdown This surprisingly effective combination of Duel and The Hitcher provides an ideal vehicle (sorry) for its star Kurt Russell. Driving their way to a new life in the west, Russell and his wife (Kathleen Quinlan) suffer a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Hoping to elicit help from a passing truck driver, Russell agrees to let his wife travel with the stranger to the nearest town to get help (their mobile phone unable to obtain a signal in the midst of their remote location). Russell's world is thrown into turmoil when his wife fails to meet him as planned having apparently been abducted. He receives a message to deliver his life savings in order to see her again. If he does anything out of line she will be killed.

Powered along by a terrific Basil (Robocop) Poledouris score, Jonathan Mostow's tense thriller is something of a sleeper hit. Stylistically, it feels like the adaptation of Stephen King's novel Misery - with few characters, an only too possible plot and compelling performances. Russell is on career best form and must have loved the opportunity to play an average guy in extraordinary circumstances. The screenplay, by Sam Montgomery and director Mostow, knows that less is more, and its paired-down, non-exploitative approach is really refreshing. There are no Stallone or Schwarzenegger macho heroics here - Russell's character responds just as you think you would.

The dialogue and many details are totally believable. For example, when a police officer appears and fails to appreciate Russell's concern, the desperate husband pleads with the lawman for action: "Officer... PLEASE!". Or later in the film when Russell (by now a nervous wreck) tries to pluck up courage and picks up a piece of wood in a toilet intending to use it as a weapon. He pauses for a moment, considers actually using it, and finding the whole idea of striking someone with possibly fatal consequences abhorrent, reluctantly drops it believing he couldn't go through with it, angry at himself for being unable to do so. The only really unconvincing plot device is how readily Russell agrees to let his wife travel with a total stranger in the first place. The brief but dramatic action features some of the best fast and dangerous car/truck/highway action this side of the original Mad Max and is included to provide a satisfyingly visceral climax. Breakdown delivers a gripping and exhilarating ride.

Rob Dyer

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