Breakdown (1997) is a mile-a-minute, gut-wrenching, suspense-a-thon. The phrase “edge of your seat” seems to be made for a film like this. The set-up is simple: man and wife (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan) are traveling through the desert on their way to a better life, when the couple’s car breaks down, but not before a nasty run-in with some of the local rednecks. They flag down a truck driver and she leaves with him to go for help. Her husband decides to stay with their vehicle. I don’t want to give anything else away about the plot, except to note that the film offers up some brilliant performances, especially from Kurt Russell as the everyday Joe who has to go to extreme lengths to rescue his wife. This is a romantic movie, but not in the usual sense of the term. He’s a guy who loves his wife and will risk life and limb to get her back, even though chances are slim she will still be alive when, and if, he ever gets to her.
One thing that doesn’t sit quite right with me is the final minute or two of the film, when one of the protagonists does something that comes off as kind of heartless. That moment, however, is a minor sore-spot in the context of the entire movie. The scorching desert, the cracker-jack suspense, the cathartic release of built-up tension, and Kurt Russell’s Grade A performance (yet another that proves he is truly an underrated actor) all amount to a fantastic show, one of the best of it’s kind.
Side Note about the special effects: In the final act of the movie, you get to see some non-CGI, real-deal car chases and crashes—“real cars smashing into real cars”, in the words of another great Kurt Russell character. In the contemporary film world of computer generated effects that often don’t look quite right to me, this is a welcome, even refreshing, element to Breakdown, and the icing on the cake of an already great movie.
Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****): Great