Jonathan Mostow’s underrated Breakdown may owe a debt to Steven Spielberg’s classic Duel, but it still qualifies as one of the most exciting road movie thrillers of the ’90s. Taking a pair of city slickers journeying cross-country from Boston to San Diego, the film lands its middle-class protagonists in the vast, desolate spaces of the desert Southwest when their car breaks down. Jeff (Kurt Russell) stays behind to protect the prized vehicle, while his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) accepts a lift from a seemingly helpful trucker (the late, great J.T. Walsh). When Amy fails to return, Jeff searches for her in vain. No-one claims to have seen Amy, and the trucker denies ever meeting her. With nowhere and no-one to turn to (the cops are no more helpful than the other locals), Jeff sets forth on his increasingly desperate search
for his wife, who appears to have vanished into the immense,
sun-baked emptiness of the West . . .

Its premise may not be original, but Breakdown works surprisingly well as both a riveting suspense thriller and a psychologically astute study of the nightmare of being stuck in the middle of nowhere. ‘I wanted to explore the universal feeling of unease that people get when they’re far from home, far from civilised society, far from a place where rules and cops protect you,’ said Mostow.

U.S.A., 1997.
Panavision anamorphic.
Dolby digital stereo.
95 mins.

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