27 April 2007 | Quinoa1984
"It could happen to you", the tag-line reads: not quite, but it is a white-knuckled ride all the way
Jonathan Mostow, before he went on to helm the big-budget U-571 and the even bigger budgeted Terminator 3, brought out this taut little thriller and cemented a reputation he's yet to really live up to (though some would disagree about that). His film has that tag-line, but it's not entirely accurate, even though it has a very familiar and eerily recognizable threat at the core: the outsiders coming in to a territory that is very close knit and practically inbred, where one wrong step could cost you and/or your loved ones lives. In this case, Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan are the married couple caught in the cross-hairs of kidnapping, blackmail, and ultimately vengeance. They're moving from Massachusets to San Diego, and driving on through the desert they get side-swiped by a car, then later on after a near-altercation at a pit-stop, they move on only for the couple's car to breakdown. Help comes in the form of a trucker, who offers help for to drive the wife to get a tow-truck. No need for the truck, anyway, because the car didn't have much wrong with it...but what about the wife, Amy?
From there on in, Mostow takes Breakdown into the realm of paranoid thriller, then into just full-on chase/action/revenge/chase again picture. One might wonder if there could be a more noirish quality to it if the wife actually left for a reason other than abduction, though the path that Mostow takes the story is fine as it is. He keeps things simple in the story sense, with elements of the Western thrown in, but also makes it very much character-based as well. Russell's performance as Jeff Taylor is kind of the opposite of his recent turn as Stuntman Mike in Grindhouse: starting off as the average-Joe who tries to be polite, albeit from a yuppie background, he gets put to the test by the enormity of the situation, and finally becomes a real take-no-prisoners hero. Towards the very end it almost reaches the point of being TOO much of hitting over the head with payback, and there are little things regarding the nature of Red Barr (JT Walsh, great villainous presence in a real sinister, calm way) and his ties to the town as to whether or not things are really as controlling as they might be (i.e. the bank scene, which is perfectly acted, though not entirely feasible in the paranoid sense).
But all this aside, what Breakdown remains ten years after is a competent, un-pretentious thrill-ride where the dialog is never too heavy, the action is packed with real stunts and few special effects, and some of the brighter moments for Russell in recent years (or rather, the last ten). It knows what it is, and has the professional temerity of a cult effort.