Breakdown (1997)
Breakdown (1997)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: May 2nd, 1997 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jonathan Mostow Actors: Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan, M.C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy, Rex Linn

 


 

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effrey Taylor (Kurt Russell) and his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are on a road trip in their brand new Grand Cherokee SUV, driving through a very desolate, toasty desert (the scenic route) on their way to San Diego, California, all the way from Massachusetts. Jeff is cut off by a mud-caked black truck on the highway and encounters the angry driver at a nearby gas station, who mistakenly believes Jeff nearly ran into him. Minutes later, while speeding away from the confrontation, the Jeep breaks down. They’re passed on the road by the same black truck once again, but just as it turns around, seemingly to taunt the two breakdown victims, a semi rolls up behind them and the driver, Red Barr (J.T. Walsh), offers to take the two to Belle’s Diner, five miles down the road. Jeff insists on staying with the car to wait until it cools off, in case it simply overheated, but Amy hops aboard the 18-wheeler with thoughts of shade and an iced tea at the nearby restaurant.

About half-an-hour later, Jeff discovers a disconnected wire dangling from beneath the Jeep and makes the quick repair to get him back out on the road. When he gets to the diner, the owner claims he’s never seen Amy or the truck driver. When Jeff peels off in a panic back onto the highway, he manages to find the same semi with Red aboard (a one-in-a-million shot) – but when he forces the vehicle to pull over, the driver asserts that he’s never seen Jeff before. Another maddening stroke of luck finds a police officer pulling over to the two parked transports, but a careful search of the cabin and trailer reveals no signs of a struggle or any other suspicious activities. Barr is allowed to leave, while Taylor continues on in an understandably delirious frenzy. He has no choice but to return to Belle’s Diner and wait. The officer, Sheriff Boyd (Rex Linn) doesn’t quite know what to believe, suggesting that an earlier spat might have caused the mystery wife to leave him, but admits that even agencies like the FBI wouldn’t get involved until at least 24 hours have passed.

Set around the time of its release in 1997, in which archaic, oversized cell phones existed, the film admirably demonstrates believability toward the difficultness of communication out in the middle of nowhere, especially with regularly poor reception. Jeff is practically alone, at his wit’s end, and almost on the verge of questioning his own beliefs. The steady escalation of a bad situation into a much, much worse one is sensationally thrilling and the signature of a perceptive filmmaker proficient at crafting a realistic mystery. The film moves at a swift, nerve-wracking pace, with Jeffrey caught in a conundrum that seemingly has no solution – and the potential losses are agonizingly high. It’s an impressive setup that makes use of a small cast and few locations without ever betraying its budget.

Starting off like George Sluizer’s “The Vanishing,” with displaced characters completely unprepared for the terrors that await them, “Breakdown” eventually twists the concept into a radically different direction. Instead of relying solely on enigmas and suspense, director Jonathan Mostow resorts to some striking violence and action sequences that make Jeffrey an intensely formidable everyman – pushed to the edge in a genuine enough manner that his sudden ability to wield a gun, engage in hand-to-hand combat, or devise a split-second plan doesn’t raise too many eyebrows. The villain is also rather unique in that his motives are at first obscure before the sincerity of his threats is brought into question. Toward the harrowing conclusion, “Breakdown” dabbles in a few horror movie tricks and actioner clichés that weaken the momentum, but it nonetheless refuses to lose all of its steam.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10