Film: Breakdown

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Film:

Breakdown

Director: Jonathan Mostow
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Genres:
Distributor: Paramount

Tautly directed and superbly photographed, this crowd-pleasing thriller from 1997 is indebted to Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but more closely resembles Dead Calm in its strengths and weaknesses. Kurt Russell plays a stressed-out husband whose wife (Kathleen Quinlan) disappears after their car breaks down in the desert. Tracking her whereabouts leads to an interstate theft and kidnapping ring, and as Russell pursues—and is pursued by—a vicious redneck played to perfection by J.T. Walsh (in one of his final film roles), the movie succumbs to several…

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Tautly directed and superbly photographed, this crowd-pleasing thriller from 1997 is indebted to Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but more closely resembles Dead Calm in its strengths and weaknesses. Kurt Russell plays a stressed-out husband whose wife (Kathleen Quinlan) disappears after their car breaks down in the desert. Tracking her whereabouts leads to an interstate theft and kidnapping ring, and as Russell pursues—and is pursued by—a vicious redneck played to perfection by J.T. Walsh (in one of his final film roles), the movie succumbs to several tense, but utterly conventional action sequences. That doesn’t stop the movie from being an above-average nail-biter. It is so effectively directed by co-writer Jonathan Mostow that even the more surreal situations seem plausible and altogether unsettling. Russell’s performance is key to the film’s success—he’s smart enough to be admirable, and we can readily identify with his frustration, confusion, and torment. Through him, Breakdown takes on the edgy quality of a wide-awake nightmare. —Jeff Shannon

The sinister side of the divide between urban and rural America has inspired countless film makers and, although by no means original, Breakdown is a tense and at times dark example of the genre. Travelling to California to start a new life, Jeff and Amy Taylor are the perfect American couple, young, prosperous and devoted to each other. When they find themselves stranded in the desert following the breakdown of their car their dream descends into a vicious nightmare. With his wife disappearing into what seems like thin air, Taylor becomes embroiled in an increasingly desperate to rescue her: repeatedly facing a wall of silence from the local community.

Kurt Russell handles the role well, comfortable with the numerous action sequences but also adept at portraying Taylor’s increasing mental anxiety in the kind of role perhaps more associated with the likes of Harrison Ford (a man who loses his wife more often than you or I might lose our car keys). The locals, led in suitably sinister form by the excellent JT Walsh, are a straight out of Deliverance—presented as dumb hicks but also capable of organising a complex kidnap. The film zips by at a pace, dwelling briefly but effectively on the astonishing number of people who go missing each year before culminating in a high-action, edge-of-the-seat climax. Not rocket science but fun all the same. —Phil Udell

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