Breakdown

Breakdown

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When a risk pays off, it pays well. It pays off here. Husband-and-wife production team, Dino and Martha De Laurentis, chose the untried writer/director Jonathan Mostow for a road movie action thriller that is quintessentially North American and yet paces itself like a European whodunnit.

Mostow's lean, intimate style makes extensive use of redneck landscape, creating a sense of scale, isolation and awsome beauty, both threatening and inhospitable, like the eyes of the men who live here. This is blue collar truck stop territory, where people don't talk much and when they do it sounds mean. The air is hot and dusty and food comes slow to the table. Jeff and Amy Taylor (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan) are "taking the scenic route" on their way to Santa Fe when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Red Barr (JT Walsh) in his big rig stops to give them a hand. He can't mend the Jeep, but says he'll take them down the road to Belle's Diner where there's a payphone. Jeff stays in the car and Amy goes with Red. That's the last he sees of her.

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Jeff Taylor's search for his wife is reminiscent of The Vanishing and yet there is something else, an insiduous violence that declares open season on strangers. Whatever is going on, and you never quite know for certain, it has an ugly echo of the dark side of country.

This could easily have been a style-washed film noir of the Red Rock West variety. Instead, Mostow remains believable, therefore increasing the tension. He makes you feel Taylor's terror and rage. He makes you breathe fast and shallow. Russell can be beef-caked and plastic (Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China). He can be solid wood (Stargate) and stiff-uppered (The Thing). What Mostow achieves with him here is remarkable.

Taylor is not presented in Stallonescope, rather as an ordinary bloke who doesn't know what to do. Russell can slip into stereotype at the scratch of a producer's pen. What makes Breakdown such a convincing ride is his ability to convey fear and courage simultaneously. Taylor's out of his depth. He's scared, but he's going on. Russell throws off the familiar guise, rejects showboat heroics and sweats for real. He's never been better.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Breakdown packshot
A man and wife are stranded when their car konks out. But when a trucker takes the wife for help, she disappears.
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Director: Jonathan Mostow

Writer: Jonathan Mostow, Sam Montgomery

Starring: Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan, M.C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy, Rex Linn, Ritch Brinkley, Moira Harris, Kim Robillard, Thomas Kopache, Jack McGee

Year: 1997

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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