Breakdown

on May 02, 1997 by Dale Winogura
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The gutsy, cathartic "Breakdown" mercifully avoids the smug, arch quirkiness of such pseudo-thrillers as "Fargo" and "Lost Highway." As did such makers of classic "B" movies of the 1950s like Phil Karlson and Don Siegel, director Jonathan Mostow builds dramatic intensity and visceral suspense that plugs into contemporary paranoia over personal isolation and victimization, all done with a bare minimum of genre hokum. He's able to sustain a nightmarish reality that is at once gripping and chilling.
In perhaps his finest performance yet, Kurt Russell keenly expresses a range of emotion and involvement as Jeff Taylor, a caring husband driving through the American Southwest desert with his wife Amy (an assured turn by Kathleen Quinlan) one hot day. When their car suffers a breakdown miles from nowhere, a kind-seeming truck driver, Red Barr ("Sling Blade's" J.T. Walsh) offers to take Amy to the nearest diner so she can call for a tow. After they leave, Jeff manages to start the car again and drives to the diner, yet on arrival his wife is nowhere to be found. He spots the trucker on the road ahead, but he denies ever seeing her.
That's but the beginning of a cataclysmic series of plot crises. With co-writer Sam Montgomery, Mostow keeps tension and terror boiling. Even though the film using a conventional story structure, and some later contrivances are a bit too neat to believe, Mostrow's stylish, punchy direction delivers every action setpiece and startling shock with finesse. His precise and economical storytelling has a classical veneer that doesn't depend on gore or pyrotechnics for effect, and even the typical genre absurdities are handled with a riveting tautness. Starring Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh and Kathleen Quinlan. Directed by Jonathan Mostow. Written by Jonathan Mostow and Sam Montgomery. Produced by Martha De Laurentiis and Dino De Laurentiis. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for strong violence and terror, and for language. Running time: 96 min.
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