Breakdown (1997)

Breakdown (1997)
  • Time: 93 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Mystery
  • Director: Jonathan Mostow
  • Cast: Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan


Jeff and Amy Taylor are moving to California and must drive across the country. When they find themselves stranded in the middle of a desert with hardly anyone or anything around, their trip comes to a sudden halt. Amy had taken a ride with a friendly trucker to a small diner to call for help, but after a long time, Jeff becomes worried. He finds that no one in the diner has seen or heard from his wife. When he finds the trucker who gave Amy the ride, the trucker swears he has never seen her. Now Jeff must attempt to find his wife, who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. But who can he trust?

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  • There’s something about Kurt Russell and a lot of the roles he has chosen over the years in his filmography during the 1980s & 1990s. As far as it has been seen, Russell has three major sides. There’s the cult role, where although it wasn’t recognized upon release, it became popular later. There’s also the comedy or action role he has taken part in that people remember him for fondly for. And then there’s Kurt Russell’s thriller side of films, where he plays an ordinary man caught in extremely dangerous situations that could happen in the real world. But as far as situations go, this is by far the film that hits closest to home just because of how nerve-rackingly possible it can be. Not to mention but the tag line to the movie says it all – “It Could Happen to You”. Great, thanks for reminding us.

    The story to this thriller is about couple Jeff and Amy Taylor (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan) who are moving to California from Massachusetts. On their travels, their car stalls and manage to get a passerby’s attention driving an 18-wheeler. The trucker, Red Barr (J.T. Walsh), offers to drive them to a next stop so they can call a tow-truck. Not wanting to leave their car alone, Jeff lets Amy go with Red. After some time, Jeff manages to get his car running and heads to the stop where he was supposed to meet his wife. As it turns out she’s not there and nobody saw her arrive. This starts Jeff on a long search and rescue and his findings reveal to him things he never thought possible. Written by Sam Montgomery and Jonathan Mostow (who also directed), this thriller is tense all the way although it becomes more fictitious as it goes on, it still is a thriller that crosses the boundaries of how plausible this situation actually is.

    The acting is one of the strongest parts to this story. Although Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan do not have much screen time together, they feel like an authentic couple. J.T. Walsh as the passerby truck driver is also convincing in his performance for the character that he plays. There’s also other roles played by other known actors like M.C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy and Rex Linn as the town police officer. The only part of the writing that doesn’t work in favor of the actors is the story’s predictability. There really is no surprise. The trailer to the film alone allows some spoilers to slide. But even without viewing the trailer, the execution itself reveals its hand a little early. As to whether the secret was supposed to be kept hidden is unknown but again, it is rather obvious. The bigger question that’ll linger on the audiences’ mind is what’s going on. This is the second strongest element to the film – tension.

    As the film progresses, small clue tidbits are given to the audience as to possible outcomes of what happened to Jeff’s wife. With that, there’s only so many solutions one can create to try understand the problem. Without the audience exactly knowing what happened to Jeff’s wife is a great way to get the viewers’ imaginations to run wild with thought. This is exactly why this thriller is so much scarier than running into the Sawyer family from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) (although it does have small traces of influence). The fact that several people everyday go missing is much more realistic than crossing paths with a chainsaw wielding cannibal, is why this hits closer to home; just like the movie’s tagline, “It Could Happen to You”. To assume any normal human being would want to be captured would be absolutely insane. Besides, if you wanted to be captured, then you’re really not being captured as definition claims the action to be.

    Thankfully, along with the high tension come some worthy retaliation scenes that involve fighting back. Of course, if you want the protagonist to get what they want, it’s going to be fun watching those scenes. Who doesn’t like watching antagonists getting what they deserve? The cinematography is a nice addition as well. Handled by Douglas Milsome (Full Metal Jacket (1987)), numerous shots contain what they need to show; barren rock land,…better known as isolation. Yet as gloomy as the setting feels, it is quite beautiful to look at. Bright clear sunny skies, mountain ranges in the background and a single road highway. Definitely a different setting than your usual urban territory. Finally the music composed by Basil Poledouris (best known for his work on RoboCop (1987) and RoboCop 3 (1993)) was decently constructed. There’s no recognizable main theme but Poledouris includes a number of tracks that emphasize the bleak emptiness that is the desert area of North America. Even so, his tracks that involve fighting are also well made too. All around, an intense watch.

    It has a bit of mystery in its story but much of that is revealed way at the beginning. However with chilling storytelling that concentrates on how it could happen to the person watching it, the events that occur are scary at times. The acting is solid, the music sounds organic and the camerawork looks great; all of which keep the tension high the whole time.

    Points Earned –> 8:10

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