Vanishing Point (1971)

I first saw this at Mu-Meson Archives a few years ago, and it struck me then that it was about as pure as action cinema could get while still having some sort of motivation (however minimal) for the action. Watching it again tonight, I don’t think I see any need to seriously revise that statement. Let’s face it, as plots go it’s a thin one: car delivery driver makes a bet that he can drive a car from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours. This is, basically, a film about a man who gets hopped up on speed (both chemical and literal) and drives a car very, very fast, and the various forces that conspire to both help and hinder him. Beneath the high concept surface, though, there’s something stranger going on; there might be plot motivation but we’re left to speculate as to what drives the driver; Barry Newman as Kowalski gives remarkably little away, and the gradually revealed bits of background can only be pieced together into a portrait of someone whho hasn’t exactly succeeded at life as most people would understand success. Apparently the original choice for the role was Gene Hackman, but I’m not sure he could’ve projected the same sort of enigmatic quality that Newman does. The landscapes through which he drives are vast and spacious, the music soundtracking this blatant disregard for the laws of the road is a terrific mix of soul, country and gospel, and the whole thing is so damn good you’ll barely have time to think too hard about just how kind of implausible the whole thing is. One of my favourites from the 70s.

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