Another one I wish I had seen sooner. Rutger Hauer plays the titular role, and is picked up in the desert, from out of the rain, by Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell). Hauer brandishes a switchblade and things go downhill for Jim fast. Jim eventually miraculously escapes the maniac, but the hitcher keeps returning in a marvelous game of cat and mouse that results in Jim's being framed for Hauer's murder spree. Jim is arrested but escapes (you'll just have to see it to see how), and the game becomes essentially a high-octane version of The Farmer in the Dell, where it's the police vs. Jim (although he does take an ally) vs. the hitcher... with lots of car chases, lots of explosions, and lots of mini-strokes in anticipation as to what will happen next. Now, I just gave a few scenes away, but no more! The film is pretty unpredictable, with lots of twists and turns, and they just keep coming scene after scene.
First thing of note is the top-notch cinematography. I mean top-fucking-notch. The camera dances around the movements of the actors and its quite breathtaking at times. The opening sequence in the car cab is so claustrophobic and intense. Even when the movie switches to the open desert (in glorious, glorious widescreen), cars drive by or people or weapons are thrust into the camera. These invasions of the screen again reinforce the claustrophobia, even in open areas, and maintain the audience's parasympathetic reactions throughout the film. This fucking camera absolutely defines the movie's heavy themes of helplessness and enclosure.
Another heavy theme throughout is the gay undercurrent between Jim and the hitcher. The hitcher grabs Jim's leg early in the movie, and every time he corners Jim he near kisses him when making threats. When Jim spits in his face, the hitcher rubs the saliva on his fingers and into his face and lips. It's very sexual in nature, and it makes a movie from 1986, much like Freddy's Revenge the year before, very subversive for its time.
Now Rutger Hauer is amazing in this. Totally creepy, totally believable. I didn't see him as a replicant or a blind swordsman all; I saw this scary fucking creep. He NAILED this role, pun intended. But here's the problem: C. Thomas Howell. He is very convincing and earnest at certain points in this movie, especially the beginning, but in many scenes he just comes of as goofy and really hammy. It's just a little incongruent with the sweat-dripping perfection that Hauer is in his role. Really, that's about the only flaw I can find with this film, and it's mildly distracting at best.
Oh, and the score's great. 8/10
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