Netflix have slowly eroded their reputation in terms of movies for some time, as studios take back their product to create rival streaming services of their own. So whatever you think of their new stand-alone shows and series, finding a good film to watch on Netflix is increasingly tricky, and it’s a surprise to see Breakdown pop up. Directed by Jonathan Mostow, Breakdown is a neat, unassuming thriller that delivers on the promise of a good story well told; an ideal fit for the casual viewings that Netflix seems to court so assidously.
Kurt Russell is Jeff Taylor, heading across the US in his Jeep SUV with his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan). Jeff unwisely leaves the bonnet of his car open while visiting a gas station, and drives away unaware that his vehicle has been sabotaged. When the car break down, a friendly trucker Red Barr (JT Walsh) offers to take them both to the nearest town, but Jeff elects to stay with his precious car. Discovering and solving the problem, he races off to re-unite with Amy, but when he arrives at the local diner, there’s no sign of her…
Some spoilers may be required, but if you haven’t figured out that Barr knows more than he’s saying, you haven’t seen many movies. Walsh was a terrific performer, and his glassy-eyed nonchalance works wonders here; a scene where Jeff hails down a police-car and demands they search Barr’s truck is intensely frustrating to watch, because Walsh is so plausible as an innocent man. But we already know he’s lying; for once, our superior position drives identification with Barr and invites us to join Jeff in his bid to uncover the truth.
Mostow does a great job with the physicality of this story, with lonely vistas and desolate, tense silences mixed up with multi-vehicle chases, burning rubber and screaming gear-boxes. And Russell’s Jeff is a truly relatable character; like John McClane in Die Hard, he’s ingenious and resourceful, but never acts like a superman. Basil Poledouris contributes a great, untypical score, and with hissable villains and lantern-jawed heroes, it’s easy to cheer the pedal-to-the-metal justice of Breakdown.
Although made in 1997, mobile phones and video-games both feature in Breakdown, but just not in the prominent way that they would if the film was made today. The locals mock Jeff’s car as being reliant on a computer, and Jeff’s re-birth as a man is largely because he sets aside his urban gadgetry and gets back down with a little primal ass-kicking. ‘What would I do with $90,000 worth of donuts?’ muses Amy; such vapid, idle speculation is the result of losing touch with reality, and Breakdown delivers that reality to Jeff and Amy with some velocity. Breakdown is a B-movie, without a shred of pretention; Duel, Straw Dogs or Deliverance might have covered similar ground, but Breakdown deserves an audience by virtue of it’s no-frills, all-thrills approach to involving and satisfying an audience in 93 minutes flat, with no stops or comfort breaks.