White knuckler! That's the term that first came to mind when figuring out how
to describe 'Breakdown'. Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan play a young
couple traveling across the United States as Russell is in the process of
changing jobs and their journey from Massachusetts to California takes an
unexpected and nightmarish jolt in the Arizona desert when they are set up by
a team of criminals (led by J.T. Walsh) who trap and extort money from upper
income and wealthy people using kidnapping and murder to get what they want.
The casting of Kurt Russell in this motion picture is most effective as
Russell is a perfect portrait of the everyday man and doesn't ruin the film
by becoming a macho and unbelievable wrecking machine which is the trademark
set by stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce
The set up, midsection, and conclusion of 'Breakdown' are all extremely vivid
and credible and the movie is also vividly surreal in telling a story that
can happen to anyone. Director Jonathan Mostow has selected a captivating
and borderline macabre tone to the entire film paying tribute to the master
of macabre himself, Alfred Hitchcock. While the film never crosses the line
into macabre storytelling, it certainly plants its toes on the finish line.
'Breakdown' is also spellbinding in keeping the audience guessing as to what
exactly is going on until you figure things out at about the halfway point.
The talents of under rated character actor J.T. Walsh are executed
brilliantly in this movie as Walsh's portrayal of evil is as mind numbing and
bone chilling as any villain in recent memory. I would have liked to have
seen his character utilized a bit more on an expanded level in 'Breakdown'
but he is terrific nonetheless.
While 'Breakdown' borrows from a number of motion pictures such as
'Deliverance' (1972), and most recently 'The Vanishing' (1993), it manages to
establish its own identity by creating an acceptable amount of violent
tension relevant to the story and an adult theme that will keep you on the
edge of your seat for its entire running time courtesy of the screenplay by
director Mostow and his writing partner Sam Montgomery and keeping an
audience on the edge of their seats is what movies are all about.
Copyright © 1997 Walter Frith