By Richard Winters
My Rating: 9 out of 10
4-Word Review: Drifters on the road.
This is a cult film if there ever was one as there seems to be no other category to put it into. It has a quality and style all of its own and the same existential mindset as Easy Rider, which can encompass you with its moody, desolate, and surreal atmosphere.
The story focuses on two young men (James Taylor, Dennis Wilson) who are given no names and drive a ’55 Chevy. They make a living challenging others to races and bet a middle-aged man (Warren Oates) that they can make it to Washington D.C. before he does. The race, like many things in life, becomes only a concept that gets increasingly more fleeting as it goes on.
The two young men are remnants of their fractured society and can only relate to the world around them when it is through their car. They subconsciously use the car to differentiate them from the pack and cover up there otherwise empty existence. The vehicle becomes more like a person while they become more like an inanimate object. They are unable to convey any deep emotion or thought and, like the stick shift in their car, only able to function with certain people.
Oates is interesting in a different sort of way. He is a man desperately seeking attention and yet is alienating at the same time. His fabrications about his life become more and more outrageous and compulsive until one wonders if he knows the difference anymore “If I don’t get grounded soon, I’m going to fly into orbit”. We realize he is running from something, but unlike other stories this mysterious past may be nothing more than loneliness and failure. He drives aimlessly simply as a way to avoid it and stopping would only allow it to catch up. The hitch-hikers he picks up along the way and conversations he has with them prove to be some of the film’s most compelling moments.
Laurie Bird plays the hippie girl that shuffles herself between the three. She inadvertently brings out some of their most dormant feelings as well as their flaws. She is quintessential in her role and her face is etched with the anger, alienation, and innocence of the youth from that era.
This as evocative a picture as you will ever find. The widescreen, remastered DVD version shows the wide open outside shots in almost crystal clear fashion. Watching James Taylor walking down a lonely, nameless small town street captures the youth’s detachment better than just about anything else. Of course this is a picture that is completely dependent on personal taste. Some will say it speaks to their soul, while others will watch it and see nothing. I know when I was younger it seemed boring and aimless, but I watched it again many years later and it made perfect sense.
The film also gives you a chance to hear interesting variations of popular rock songs. They are played in the background of certain scenes and include: “Hit the Road Jack”, “Maybellene”, and “Me and Bobby McGee”.
My Rating: 9 out of 10
Released: July 7, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes
Director: Monte Hellman
Available: VHS, DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B)