Sunday, 31 March 2013

Breakdown (1997)

A quick note for those thinking that some Kurt Russell movies may have been missed on this journey through the filmography of the great man - don't forget that some of the movies have already been reviewed on IMDb and there are also one or two that have been reviewed here in the past (such as Executive Decision, which was reviewed as part of my Seagalathon). And now back to our normal broadcast day.

The long, quiet roads stretching through America have often been used to decent effect in thrillers (most notably, for me anyway, in the sublimely brilliant The Hitcher) and they are once again the setting for tension and unease in this enjoyable movie directed by Jonathan Mostow, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Sam Montgomery.

Kurt Russell plays an everyday Joe, named Jeff (sorry for the confusion there, I should really rewrite that bit, but we all know that I'm not going to now), who is driving on a long and tiresome journey with his wife, Amy played by Kathleen Quinlan. When the car suffers the breakdown of the title, Jeff and Amy are seemingly fortunate enough to be approached by a trucker named 'Red' (the great J. T. Walsh). 'Red' offers them a lift after he's unable to help them get the car started and, after an initial polite refusal, the couple decide that Amy should accept the lift while Jeff waits with the car. Some time later, with no help in sight, Jeff finds the fault with the car, fixes it and gets on his way. He makes straight for the predetermined meeting point, expecting his wife to be there, but finds that nobody has seen her. Jeff tries to consider the possibility that there has been some confusion between him and his wife, but things take a turn for the strange and disconcerting when he sees 'Red' driving along in his truck, gets him to pull over and then hears the man tell him that he's never met him before in his life and has no idea where his wife is. Maybe the car trouble wasn't the worst thing that could happen out on the desolate highways.

Covering a lot of familiar ground, Breakdown may cause a lot of viewers to dismiss it as tired thriller fare that's too derivative and not exciting enough to ever become a top priority in the viewing pile. I have to admit that it doesn't do quite enough to ever become a top priority, but it has a bit more to it to save it from complete dismissal.

First of all, there's the cast. Russell is always great in an Average Joe role and he's exceptionally good here, always believable even as the whole situation gets more and more perplexing. J. T. Walsh never put in a bad turn in his life, at least not that I'm aware of, and gives another fantastic performance here. Quinlan may, understandably, not get as much to do, but she's perfectly fine and the relationship between her and Russell is well sketched out and nicely done. M. C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy and Rex Linn provide some good support and even every minor character gets enough to do to make themselves somewhat memorable.

Second, we have the direction and story from Mostow. While he's never been a director sitting atop any favourites list, Mostow is a solid talent who can do very good things with the right material. Thankfully, in the shape of the script by himself and Montgomery, this is the right material. He starts everything off in an easily recognisable reality before pushing everything gently, but firmly, into cinematic thriller territory and he has the good sense not to try to turn the everyman hero into Rambo.

Third, we have the actual setting of the film. Those miles and miles of open road. A fine environment when travelling from A to B, but a harsh and scary environment when something goes wrong.

Despite a final reel that goes for a standard "Hollywood" finale, Breakdown does enough to warrant a viewing and may even become one that people find themselves revisiting now and again, when they're in the mood for a thriller that hits all of the right notes while also feeling a bit different from the norm. Fans of Russell and Walsh will most certainly want to give it a try and fans of fun thrillers should do likewise.


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