19 April 2012 | SteveSkafte
the shadows swallow your reflection
"The Nickel Ride" is all about mood. There's a nearly-constant feeling a dread in the air. From the first scene, you get the terrifying sensation that something bad is going to happen, and that anything to the contrary is a fleeting illusion. Cooper (played by Jason Miller) is supposedly a guy who everyone likes, but it soon becomes clear that no one respects him. Maybe it's because he stopped fighting a long time ago, back when his apathy buried his anger. There's a sense of hope in him, though, but that just makes him a target. He's in a line of work that perceives anything but the iron fist as a sign of weakness - and it's these desperate days that the opening scene drops us into. Out of a nearly-waking dream, like a mirror of Miller's first film "The Exorcist", he sees something coming that's more a thing of impeding doom than that of direct prophecy.
It's a somewhat atypical film for director Robert Mulligan. He was more one for straightforward dramas, rarely tackling a subdued loner-driven narrative like this. This is also an early original script for Eric Roth, who is certainly treading much more uncomplicated ground than on his later stories. He's written something that can be carried completely by performances. "The Nickel Ride" doesn't reach very far, so it's not totally capable of the sort of staying power that keeps other 1970s classics in our minds. But the powerful uneasy feeling and the performance of Jason Miller makes it something special. This is a curious, angry, scared little alleycat of a film.