Standout Blu-ray of a still gripping film 4.5 Stars

Breakdown, now a little over 24 years old, is the kind of terrific and tight thriller we don’t find up on the big screen anymore. It eschews the elaborate and complicated action staging of bigger pictures at the time it was released (Con Air, Air Force One, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, The Peacemaker, to name a few), in favor of a lean, grounded gripping tale, and it works wonderfully. I also wonder where this kind of production would end up in today’s world.

Upon its release, the film was a surprise hit, critically and at the box office, and rightfully so. Revisiting the film once again on this Paramount Presents Blu-ray edition, the film holds up well. The disc is a beauty and is recommended. I hope this does well for Paramount and we see a heck of a lot more of this kind of movie delivered with this kind of care.

Breakdown (1997)
Released: 02 May 1997
Rated: R
Runtime: 93 min
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Cast: Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan
Writer(s): Jonathan Mostow, Sam Montgomery
Plot: A man searches for his missing wife after his car breaks down in the middle of the desert.
IMDB rating: 6.9
MetaScore: 73

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Other
Rating: R
Run Time: 1Hr. 33 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: Paramount Presents film poster fold-out sleeve with clear plastic inner case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 09/21/2021
MSRP: $29.30

The Production: 4.5/5

“We’ll certainly do our best, Mr Taylor. Y’know, there’s over 100,000 people that go missing in this country every year. Runaways, deadbeat dads, dropouts, folks hiding from the IRS. All vanishing without a trace.”

A couple, Jeff and Amy Taylor, making their way from Boston to San Diego by car find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere when their SUV suddenly stalls out and won’t start on a dusty highway. A trucker (J.T. Walsh) stops to help and gives Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) a lift to the nearest town’s diner to use a payphone to call a tow truck. After a few hours, Jeff (Kurt Russell) gets the SUV started, but when he gets to the diner, no one has seen or heard from his wife. He catches up with the trucker who says he’s never seen him of his wife before. The police have nothing to go on, and Jeff is out in the middle of the dusty and desolate American landscape with no idea what happened to his wife or how to find her.

Though director Jonathon Mostow hasn’t directed all that much, he’s shown himself to understand the economy of thrills. Breakdown was his breakout success and it’s a brilliant thriller. Kurt Russell, the everyman thrust into extraordinary and terrifying circumstances when following the apparent abduction of his wife from the middle of nowhere and no-one around him who believes his story. He’s stepped into something quite dastardly and his stumbling around to stay alive and find his wife becomes utterly compelling.

Breakdown is lean and efficient. Even composer Basil Poledouris’s score, a man who can fill the sounds of cinema with rousing orchestral mastery, delivers and a wonderfully spare score. The desolation of the landscape swells the sense of isolation and futility of Jeff Taylor’s climb out of despair. It unfolds authentically enough to believe and chaotically enough to build the tension. Kurt Russel, who delivered a series of great performances in thrillers in the 90s (Unlawful Entry, Executive Decision, Backdraft) is at the top of his game here. Russell’s range is under heralded. The man who gave us the unflinching cool of the Snake Plissken anti-hero to the bumbling heroics of Big Trouble in Little China’s Jack Burton has played everything in between during his career, manages the decidedly timid everyman who must find his courage with utter believability. J.T. Walsh as the ‘bad guy’ is deliciously menacing without bravado or scene chewing. He’s unsettling and that’s perfect here. Kathleen Quinlan’s role isn’t terribly large, but she’s excellent, especially when you contrast her playful performance at the start of the film with where she ends up. Supporting players, from M.C. Gainey as the nefarious Earl, Rex Linn as Sheriff Boyd, and Jack Noseworthy as Billy, are suited nicely to their roles.

Mostow’s use of sound, or rather the general absence of it, is another key ingredient here. The hollow sounds of desert winds blowing, the initially limited instrumentation of the score, in most places, followed by the explosive use of sound effects from crashing and twisting metal and the thrusts of engines, is expert. Mostow cites The Lady Vanishes as a film bouncing around his head when conceiving the film, a writing endeavor born out of a failed effort to make a Stephen King film involving desert locations and lots of trucks. What Mostow creates out of those ingredients, is a superbly stripped-down production that taps into our fears of vulnerability and the dread of no apparent options. There are echoes of Spielberg’s Duel here, even whispers of the Western genre without the gunslinging and obvious heroics, but Breakdown stands out for its lean ambitions and practical production. It still delivers as much in thrills and tension as it did back in 1997.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The latest in the Paramount Presents series, Breakdown, presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is a winner on Blu-ray. A 4k version has been available digitally for a little while now, so it is surprising that a 4K UHD release wasn’t in the cards, but the Blu-ray, featuring a director-approved remaster from a new 4k film scan, equips itself nicely. Between the two, I’d say the Blu-ray even has the edge.

There’s a decided gain in fine detail and color balance and consistency, skin pores more visible and fabric detail clearer by a wide margin over the previous DVD release. I can’t believe that this film hadn’t made its way to the Blu-ray format stateside before now, but it’s worth the wait (an import from Imprint media was available earlier this year).

Filmed in 35mm with Arriflex 35 III, Moviecam Compact and Arriflex 535 cameras, lensed by Doug Milsome (Full Metal Jacket, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), the film takes advantage of natural light, bright, hot, and dry (supported by the cinematographer’s skills, of course), capturing the open landscape and isolation well. It’s brightly colored where it’s supposed to be (the Jeep Cherokee our unsuspecting travelers drive pops quite nicely), and the blue skies are bright but with the edge taken off, which is exactly how I remember the sky being in that kind of climate.

This is a great looking disc.

Audio: 4.5/5

Paramount brings Breakdown to Blu-ray with a rather good English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 option, and it provides for the film exceedingly well. Audio effects, largely, are minimal during a good deal of the film, but when used, deliver. The audio isn’t stretched a great deal but matters when it needs to. The train running past as Russell walks with the money to the middle of nowhere is an excellent use of the surrounds and is the most enveloping of the entire film. The finale sequence pushes the LFE in some good places and the sounds of grinding, crashing metal deliver nicely across the fronts and surrounds some to make that sequence involving. Dialogue, though quite sparse in portions of the film, is always clear and crisp.

One final shout-out to Basil Poledouris’ score. I’ve owned La-La Land Records surprising 3-disc special edition of this score since it was released back in 2011 (I believe). Out of print now, it’s a remarkable showcase for the measured and, increasingly as the score develops, orchestrally rendered music used in the film (along with a wheelbarrow full of alternate score tracks and alternate version of tracks used in the film).

Special Features: 3/5

Breakdown boasts a small but rather good handful of new special features, including an interesting audio commentary by director Mostow and Kurt Russell, and, most intriguingly, the unused alternate opening sequence (available on its own or with commentary by Mostow, who goes into detail about how he never wrote it, never wanted it, and is glad he got his way and had it removed before it was released to theaters (his rationale for not using it is 100% on point).

In an age where new special features are hard to come by (and as fellow reviewer and HTF moderator @Sam Posten laments, a frequent reliance on old, SD extras), the inclusion here of new special features created for this release I think bodes well.

  • Audio Commentary by Director Jonathan Mostow and Kurt Russell
  • Filmmaker Focus: Director Jonathan Mostow on Breakdown
  • Victory Is Hers – Kathleen Quinlan on Breakdown
  • A Brilliant Partnership – Martha De Laurentiis on Breakdown
  • Alternate Opening
  • Alternate Opening with Commentary by Director Jonathan Mostow
  • Isolated Score
  • Theatrical Trailers

Overall: 4.5/5

Breakdown, now a little over 24 years old, is the kind of terrific and tight thriller we don’t find up on the big screen anymore. It eschews the elaborate and complicated action staging of bigger pictures at the time it was released (Con Air, Air Force One, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, The Peacemaker, to name a few), in favor of a lean, grounded gripping tale, and it works wonderfully. I also wonder where this kind of production would end up in today’s world.

Upon its release, the film was a surprise hit, critically and at the box office, and rightfully so. Revisiting the film once again on this Paramount Presents Blu-ray edition, the film holds up well. The disc is a beauty and is recommended. I hope this does well for Paramount and we see a heck of a lot more of this kind of movie delivered with this kind of care.

Post Disclaimer

Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.

Published by

Neil Middlemiss

editor

View thread (4 replies)

Tommy R

Screenwriter
Joined
Apr 17, 2011
Messages
1,719
Real Name
Tommy
I remember going to see this randomly in the theater with my mom and sister back in the day. Had no idea what the story was or what it was going to be like and I was blown away. Super tight and suspenseful as hell. They don’t make them like this anymore. I’m very grateful to get some bonus content on this disc. Never would have thought this would ever get such a release, especially in 2021. I guess I can retire my non-anamorphic DVD. I think that was the most recent release of this film until now.
 

Museum Pieces

Second Unit
Joined
Aug 20, 2020
Messages
271
Real Name
Skylar
I've been saying for years this needed a Blu-ray release. I remember when I first saw the trailer and thought there was no way Kathleen Quinlan would get in the car with J.T. Walsh--and nearly didn't see the movie because of that. And then when I saw it, the story was so beautifully motivated and, if I can use the word, realistic. I remember thinking at the time, "This is totally suspenseful and believable." It had action that real human beings, ordinary people, could actually do. And that's why I have always loved it. It's so believable and suspenseful.

Can't wait to get my disc.
 

John Maher_289910

Supporting Actor
Joined
Nov 7, 2013
Messages
675
Real Name
John Maher
I remember seeing this and saying, "this would never ever happen to me, because I wouldn't be anywhere near those parched, brown mountains and empty highways." Two weeks later I found myself in Lake San Marcos, California for two weeks, and driving to Palm Springs, early Saturday morning approx 2 1/2 hr drive). The entire trip was parched, brown mountains and empty highways. Love this film. Kurt Russel is, without question, the most under-appreciate actor who's ever lived. He plays characters with the best of them, but he plays normal (way harder) better than anybody.