City Boy

Breakdown doesn’t shy away from its north vs south conflict. Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan play an educated couple from Boston, traveling through Texas – or a Texas filled with working class redneck caricatures.

The imagery makes a point to show the vehicle’s license plates. Part of this is because Breakdown is edited to the bone, a slick 90-minutes, and any rapid method to deliver information is preferred. Also though, the intent is to make Russell’s thinly defined Jeff Taylor easy to root for, beyond his movie star credentials. Ill-speaking pick-up truck drivers and 18-wheel operators give Breakdown an easy good/evil template.

Breakdown succeeds purely based on execution of formula

Playing on the country’s inherent divisions and occasional superiority complex is cheap. It’s not particularly fair, especially after the late ‘70s and ‘80s produced a number of blue collar, southern-centric heroes in Smokey and the Bandit and White Line Fever. The turn toward white collar work is subtly evident even in movies like this, no matter how “normal” Taylor seems. Intent is obvious.

Mostly a pre-cell phone era thriller (or at least one where they weren’t ubiquitous enough to factor in), Breakdown became a last-of-its-kind genre flick. Hitchcockian (a bit anyway) with the average man trying to prove he’s telling the truth, and evading the law as he does so. Slick diversions in the first act place the onus on Russell to prove his wife is genuinely missing. Then, a frantic second act, followed by the intense, action-centric third. The composition is faultless, clean, and admittedly typical. Breakdown succeeds purely based on execution of formula, not necessarily the creative endeavor itself.

In a movie like this, the hero will win; it’s a matter of how. Breakdown never makes that obvious – the misdirection is enough to keep a sense of instability and natural tension alive. By the end, Breakdown finds Taylor crawling around a truck hitting at least 60 on the speedometer, engaging in shootouts, and barely dodging oncoming traffic. It’s a lot, but by then, Breakdown has already won. Great thrillers can loosen their logic if the grip was tight enough. So is the case here, and Russell’s screen attributes pay off in a climax that’s pure ‘90s, right up there with the Cliffhangers of the era.

Video

Most of the Paramount Presents line sport fresh new masters, but Breakdown looks like an anomaly. While debuting here on Blu-ray – and this isn’t a DVD-era source – Breakdown’s HD presentation is minimal. Resolution is lean, and detail limited. Scenery across the desert finds a few bright spots despite the dull definition. Grain is preserved at least, so there’s no processing to draw ire.

Desert scenery has a fondness for warmer tones, as if that’s a surprise considering the locale. Russell’s red Cherokee pops a bit against the dust and sand, along with the greenery from the plants at roadside. Flesh tones carry a slight amber push, a bit unnatural, even carrying a little glow.

Contrast fares okay. Sunlight helps. Image density overall amounts to little though. Lean shadows perform their basic duties and leave a mild impression.

Audio

Straight from the early surround era, this TrueHD 5.1 track proves aggressive in showing off panning effects. Vehicles shift between speakers with perfect accuracy and a slight boost in volume through the rears. That overcranking isn’t unusual for the time period. Dialog stays nicely in balance, even amid ambient effects like small breezes or storms thundering in the distance.

Low-end support adds rumble to truck engines and the score. It’s not much, but enough to make a point that yes, the subwoofer is engaged. Shotgun blasts hit with energy, although it’s mixed loose, lacking the firmness of better (and modern) action flicks.

Extras

Director Johnathan Mostow pops up a few times on this disc, first in a commentary paired with Kurt Russell, then over an alternate opening (if you so choose). Mostow continues in a Filmmaker Focus that nears 11-minutes. Kathleen Quinlan sits down for a couple of minutes and remembers her part in the production. Martha De Laurentis comes next, chatting for eight minutes. Dig into the settings menu and you’ll find an isolated score track.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Breakdown
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Expertly composed and on a blitz to its finish, Breakdown is a success based entirely on its successful execution.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 34 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: