Inspiring, triumphant, and extremely well-observed, the 1979 Peter Yates drama Breaking Away features some great early performances from Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley, and Daniel Stern as a group of friends who have recently graduated high school and are trying to figure out what path to take during the next chapter in their lives. Every moment of this naturalistic film feels unforced and organic, with the Oscar-winning screenplay by Steve Tesich hitting themes that were both universal and personal, all in an effort to evoke a very specific time and place and atmosphere for these young and searching individuals. Set in Indiana, the film has a wonderful sense of Americana without ever feeling cloying or overly sentimental, while Matthew F. Leonetti’s graceful cinematography captured all of the action, both big and small, with a humanistic edge and without a trace of artifice, while the biking scenes are all thrillingly shot without ever going over the top. The final act cuts to the heart of the message of the story — never give up and never underestimate yourself — and after watching it you feel as if anything might be possible. Grossing $20 million off of a $2.3 million budget, the film would become a hit with critics and audiences, and would receive multiple Oscar nominations in addition to Tesich’s win. Former Playboy bunny Robyn Douglass nearly shattered the camera lens with her exceedingly photogenic qualities, and there’s also some early John Ashton and Hart Bochner POWER for good measure. Yates was a unique helmer, capable of big action (Bullit), intimate drama (John and Mary), stoner-weirdo-fantasy (Krull), and seemingly everything else in between. A short lived TV series would follow in 1980-81.

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