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Kurt Russell stars in Breakdown, a lean, entertaining thriller from Director Jonathan Mostow that also stars J. T. Walsh and Kathleen Quinlan. During their drive from Boston to San Diego in a new, bright red Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeff Taylor (Russell) and wife Amy (Quinlan) almost crash into a reckless driver. Minutes later, they meet the same man at a roadside gas station and exchange words. Back on the road, the couple is surprised when their new car breaks down. Amy hitches a ride with a truck driver, Red Barr (Walsh), to go back to town and find a mechanic, while Jeff stays behind. He soon realizes the vehicle's battery wires were tampered with and is able to get the Jeep running again. When he arrives back in town Amy is nowhere to be found. The locals are unhelpful, so Jeff decides to return to the spot where he broke down. En route, he meets the same trucker, who, when confronted, claims to have never met him or Amy.
Do not worry, Breakdown is not some supernatural whodunnit, and instead is a good, old fashioned action drama in which an everyman must confront nefarious characters to save his wife. Mostow was a new director when producer Dino De Laurentiis tapped him to shoot the film. Producers and the studio forced him to shoot an extended prologue in which Jeff has a nervous breakdown while working as a war photographer and is sent home, causing him to suggest the cross-country move. The prologue would have been totally unnecessary, and, fortunately, test screening audiences and an insistent Mostow convinced financiers to cut the sequence, which is included as a bonus feature here. Breakdown instead dives right into the action with Jeff and Amy and wastes no time getting to the conflict. At only 93 minutes, there is little fat on this movie's bones, which is refreshing given the current trend of overlong, overwrought action films. When a local sheriff's deputy (Kim Robillard) fails to assist Jeff, he begins the hunt for Amy himself. He soon realizes there is complex deception going on, and that many locals are involved.
This is an enjoyable film for many reasons. I like the simplicity and directness of the narrative, and Mostow does double duty here, writing the screenplay, too. Russell gives an underrated, effective performance, and the actor is absolutely believable as a confused outsider who becomes almost unhinged when battling the evil that targeted him. This is not a Russell performance where he appears to smirk at the audience or shows his rugged charisma; this is Russell playing the everyman. The supporting cast is strong, too, and Breakdown grants a certain anonymity to these characters, especially the villains, that works well in context. The action sequences, particularly those involving driving, were almost all done in camera and are quite impressive. The film moves toward an intense but appropriate climax and concludes without ever slowing down. Breakdown is a strong genre film that was not widely available on Blu-ray until now. Fans of Russell, Mostow and lean action thrillers will want to pick this up.
Paramount provides a 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for the film that is remastered in 4K and approved by director Mostow. The results are excellent. Bright, outdoor shots comprise most of the film, and the Blu-ray handles the landscapes and highlights with ease. Fine-object detail, including facial features and set dressings, are crystal clear, and wide shots are deep and highly detailed. Colors are appropriately saturated, skin tones appear accurate, and black levels are strong. The hero Jeep Cherokee stands out due to its color, and I noticed no compression artifacts, edge halos or print damage here.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack offers plenty of effects panning, surround action, and subwoofer support. Action sequences make use of the entire sound field, and the presentation is quite hearty. Dialogue and score are mixed nicely, too, and I noticed no problems with overcrowding or distortion. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital dub and English SDH and French subtitles are also included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Paramount releases Breakdown on Blu-ray as part of its "Paramount Presents" line. The single-disc release arrives in a clear case that slides inside a slipcover with fold-open flap. Paramount pulls together a nice assortment of extras here: Filmmaker Focus: Director Jonathan Mostow on Breakdown (10:46/HD) is a new interview with the director; Victory is Hers: Kathleen Quinlan on Breakdown (4:22/HD) see the actress discuss her role; and A Brilliant Partnership: Martha De Laurentiis on Breakdown (8:17/HD) offers remarks from the producer's point of view. You also get the aforementioned Alternate Opening (11:40/HD), with or without director's commentary; a new Audio Commentary by Director Jonathan Mostow and Kurt Russell and an Isolated Score Track.
A lean, entertaining thriller buoyed by strong direction and a great performance by Kurt Russell, Breakdown is an underrated ‘90s gem. This new Blu-ray release offers excellent picture, sound and supplements. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.