Dave (Dennis Christopher) dreams of becoming a champion bicycle racer, and since he knows that the best racers in the world are Italian, he sets out to re-invent himself as an Italian, driving his working-class father crazy in the process. However, the more pressing problem for Dave and his family is that neither Dave nor his other close friends (Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley) really know what they're going to do with their lives, now that they've finished high school. But in addition to a quirky sense of identity, Dave also has a lot of talent and a determination to win, and two important races, one against an Italian racing team and one against the "college boys" in town, turn out to be the way for Dave to come to terms with his life and his future.
As a bicycle racing fan, I admit that I was prepared to like Breaking Away to a certain extent from the beginning, just for its subject. My happy discovery was that Breaking Away is a very enjoyable film in its own right. It's a pleasantly light-hearted, cheerful picture that's well-crafted and well-written; it even took home an Academy Award in 1979, for Best Screenplay.
Breaking Away is, at times, quite funny; but it's predominantly a drama, not a comedy, and the humor is well woven into the serious part of the story. The film's focus is squarely on its characters, who are drawn sympathetically and with a touch of humor. There are no "good guys" and "bad guys" here; the antagonism between the town boys, or "Cutters," and the "college boys" mostly results from the characters' ambivalence about their futures. The performances from Christopher, Quaid, Stern, and Haley as the four high-school friends are solid and believable; the minor characters are also generally well-played. Director Peter Yates handles the pacing of the film well, keeping the story moving and developing in an entertaining way throughout the full running time.
The new release of Breaking Away features an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, an improvement over the previous non-anamorphic edition. I'd say that the image quality is decent; it's a minor title for Fox and hasn't been polished up, but it looks respectable. The main flaw is the graininess that's evident in the image at times in darker scenes. On the positive side, though, most scenes, particularly the many outdoor scenes, are clear, if not exceptionally sharp. Edge enhancement wasn't in evidence, the print is relatively noise-free, and colors looked clean.
The film's Dolby 2.0 stereo track is pretty much average for an older title. The sound is generally clean, with no distortion or background noise, but the volume did tend to fluctuate slightly, producing a slightly muffled effect at times.
Surely Fox could have done better in the special features for the second release of this DVD. As it is, all we get a lot of wasted space with a pan-and-scan version of the film, with the only extras being two trailers for Breaking Away and a handful of trailers for other Fox DVDs.
Breaking Away is a fun, charming movie that has enough repeat viewing value to make it definitely worth picking up for your collection, especially if you enjoy bicycle racing. Now that it's available in an anamorphic transfer, now's the moment to buy it.