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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.79%
Average: 12.77%
Pretty Bad: 2.13%
Total Crap: 2.13%

2 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Vanishing Point
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by Jay Seaver

"As good as its recently-highlighted reputation."
4 stars

Quentin Tarantino has a habit of name-dropping in his movies, and no movie is referenced more in his latest, "Death Proof", than "Vanishing Point". As per usual, he's got good taste; while many of the grindhouse movies he and Robert Rodriguez were meaning to invoke were not actually very good, this one is worth tracking down - at least if you like chase movies.

Credit Vanishing Point, especially in the early going, with clarity of purpose: Kowalski (Barry Newman) speeds across the Western U.S. in a white 1970 Dodge Challenger that he's trying to deliver from Denver to San Francisco in less than a day. While he's driving, his mind occasionally flashes back to an earlier time... when he was a race car driver. As the film goes on, we learn a bit more about his history, and we encounter a few other characters that he meets on the road, as police in four states try to capture him and disc jockey "Super Soul" (Cleavon Little) spins the soundtrack, feeds him coded advice on what the cops are doing, and elevates the driver to the level of a folk hero.

Vanishing Point is an essential movie for the speed junkie; director Richard Sarafian and cinematographer John Alonzo communicate the feelings of joy, freedom, and power that come from driving a fast car, but they don't overdo it. As we look out Kowalski's window, the road is moving fast, but never quite so fast that we doubt his ability to control the car. Unlike the action filmmakers of a generation later, they favor a steady camera showing the road going by or a majestic cloud of dust to overstating the issue by shaking it. The photography does a nice job of setting the scene, too - for example, even seen on this pretty terrible print, the punishingly hot vastness of the Nevada desert is overwhelming.

Sarafian is using all that craft in the service of something that's more than just a series of car chases, although maybe not quite as deep as someone can make it sound if they really try. The flashbacks and exposition reveal a history to Kowalski that is tragic and explains why perhaps the desire to drive fast and well is all that he has left, but does so without sermonizing. The over-the-top mythologizing that Super Soul subjects Kowalski to may be a tweak of the period's self-importance or indulgence in it. There's also something to be said about the behavior of people in authority: A multi-state chase after someone who is just speeding (and in fact takes care to make sure no-one is hurt), with helicopters and command centers, seems excessive in some ways - especially when there are things like the brutal, racially-charged assault on Super Soul's radio station going on.

The characters are archetypes, and the performances suitably broad, but there's someting real and human to each character as well. Newman's Kowalski is sort of hollowed out, pleasant enough to people who don't get in his way and impatient with the rest. He's fallen from grace, and isn't giving much thought to climbing back up. Super Soul is blind, and Little plays him as being larger than life in other ways - broad gestures, rocking back and forth to the music he plays and stringing together lots of emotional words for his audience. He's a great orator, just a pleasure to listen to. Dean Jagger and Timothy Scott are almost caricatures as two outsiders Kowalski encounters, a desert rat and a hippie.

The characters and situations are odd but interesting, adding plenty of color to what could be a standard-issue car-chase movie. The vehicular action is pretty good, and special praise should go to the soundtrack - it's pretty good soul and keeps things moving for the most part. The movie walks a line nicely, never getting to surreal to make the audience uncomfortable and providing a little more than meat-and-potatoes car chasing.

Is it quite worth the adoration Tarantino and his characters would give it twenty-five years later? Yeah, it just may be. It manages to be something a little more ambitious than its genre without skimping on the action its audience came for.

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originally posted: 06/02/07 11:47:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/12/16 The Big D Weird, depressing film about social misfits--72 Road Runners rock; 70 Challengers suck! 1 stars
5/11/15 Jordano A favorite of mine. This film speaks to me in ways other films don't beyond its basic plot. 5 stars
7/02/12 Jack Loved this movie since it came out. Much more than just a chase 'n crash flick... 5 stars
6/02/12 Elian great movie! !! 5 stars
5/22/12 Clairellen McLaughlin Excellent thought-provoking film. 5 stars
10/08/10 henry baird excellent 5 stars
5/26/08 Jeff Anderson A great 70's cult classic helped highly by Newman & an awesome soundtrack, IT'S THAT GOOD! 5 stars
9/03/07 Rocketman Absolutely terrific movie...i'll be drivin HWY50 this the Vanishing Point !!! 5 stars
6/12/07 Jim Phelan Probably seen this movie more than anyone alive,, at 50 y/o got a new dvd and still watchin 5 stars
6/27/06 sarafian 20 times in 1972 5 stars
3/03/05 Mike Rallins The best car chase movie I've seen! 5 stars
11/25/04 m willard There is more here than just a car flick, I was pleasantly surprised. 4 stars
10/29/04 susanne wiley i've seen it 4 times over the past few years and i enjoy it everytime 4 stars
5/14/04 John one of the great 70's road movies - still very entertaining 4 stars
4/17/04 Morally Sound Just sit back and enjoy the ride. 4 stars
3/14/04 Mike Reiners It fit the time, 1971, so very well. I was 16, we loved it. 4 stars
3/13/04 Jon Brown cool movie 5 stars
2/04/04 Jim Triggs Fantastic film with plenty of supernatural undertones. 5 stars
1/19/04 dan beaudoin greatest car movie ever seen 5 stars
1/02/04 Derifter Boring, saved only by the Challenger. If you liked Two-Lane Blacktop, you might like this. 2 stars
12/27/03 klkj jklkjl 5 stars
12/04/03 DaSilver A lilttle reminder of what life is like when all you have to depend on is an engine 5 stars
11/27/03 Nick Carayannis Groing up in Colorado and watching VP on the big screen at age 16 I am still nuts over i t 5 stars
11/09/03 Baby Boomer I saw it on the big screen, memorable, muscle cars, music, scenery, yeah fucking great! 4 stars
9/21/03 BFDG No better B movie ever made,Period ! ! 5 stars
8/31/03 joe bob great 5 stars
4/28/03 Bjorn Stemerdink If you like the lone guy racing across the country while comtemplating his life, its great 5 stars
3/26/03 Stijn Delaere Great movie with lots of soul power! Primal Scream's devoted an excellent album to it! 4 stars
2/12/03 Peter Leatherland one of the best films ever! 5 stars
2/08/03 MDR Best Movie Ever 5 stars
1/05/03 Iwo Jakubowski Great film about the tremendous speed of the 60s forgotten long ago;great Newman`s creation 4 stars
10/26/02 Michael Great... a formative classic of my early years. I've watched this film over and over. 5 stars
10/02/02 Linda P. Fucking great 5 stars
8/22/02 Richard An exciting piece of filmaking. Says "f--- you to all the do as your told types" 5 stars
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  15-Jan-1971 (R)
  DVD: 03-Feb-2004

  N/A (18)

  15-Jan-1971 (M)

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