A sharp and witty script along with cracking performances is what keeps Elliot Silverstein’s THE CAR above the fray of the below-the-line grindhouse inspired cult films of the 70s. James Brolin, who in his younger days is a dead ringer for Christian Bale and sounds like Matthew McConaughey, is the lone sheriff in Santa Ynez who must stop a demonic car from killing people. Whilst not a direct inspiration, there are elements and similarities to Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, and would be near impossible for this film to not be an influence. This flick is a lot of fun.
The supporting cast populated by a wickedly fun R.G. Armstrong, a playful Kathleen Lloyd, stoic John Marley, and a vulnerable turn from Ronny Cox. The principle characters are given a bit more to do than they normally would in a film like this. Brolin is raising two daughters on his own while courting a local school teacher; Marley’s first love is in an abusive relationship with Armstrong, and Cox is the closet alcoholic who puts the pieces together about the demonic car.
The Car itself is a lot fun. It is matte black, indestructible, and terrifying. One of the many highlights of the film is the point of view of The Car, which is cut to during key moments of the film and adds a heightened sense of reality to the situation this dusty California town finds itself in. The practicality of the effects is another aspect to not only admire but respect about the film. The stunts are wonderful, and the Car brings the action, especially in the third act where the Car literally gets airborne and drives through a house to take someone out. It is rather awesome.
The strengths of this film surely out way any slight aspects that potentially hinder the film’s enjoyment factor. James Brolin is quintessentially cool in this film, and carries the weight of the lead perfectly – if this film had been made in the 40s, Gary Cooper most certainly would have played the role. The menacing score, the remarkable set pieces and expansive cinematography are all factors that showcase what a wonderfully fun picture this is. A minimalist approach is very effect in horror, and THE CAR is a prime example.
I feel like the one thing to take away from Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is that the war on drugs isn’t working in any sense. That’s the short answer, but at nearly three hours runtime, Soderbergh isn’t interested in any kind of short answers, let alone clean cut, definitive or resolute ones that help anyone sleep at night. It’s a sprawling, complex international labyrinth of a film that scans every faction from the loftiest echelons of American politics to the poorest slums of Mexico, not necessarily looking for answers but digging up new questions and conundrums. In Washington, the president elects a straightforward family man (Michael Douglas) as the new drug czar and face of the crusade, except that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is knee-deep in hard drug addiction and heading down a dark path. Across the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro, fantastic) tries to prevent corruption from eating away at his country and the soul of his partner. Back stateside, two undercover narcs (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle) prep a captured mid level smuggler (Miguel Ferrer stealing scenes like nobody’s business) to testify against the higher ups. The wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) of an imprisoned kingpin (Steven Bauer, sadly only glimpsed briefly) deals with her husband’s enemies while his slick dick lawyer (Dennis Quaid) eyes her up for the taking. A scary Mexican military General (Tomas Milian) fights drug running for his own mystery goal, and many other stories play out both in the US and Mexico. Soderbergh gets together a treasure chest of cameos and supporting talent that includes the likes of Clifton Collins Jr., Emilio Riveria, Topher Grace, Peter Riegart, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, Viola Davis, John Slattery, Yul Vasquez, Jack Conley, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek and more. This isn’t a tunnel vision action flick or even your garden variety ensemble crime piece, there’s a distracted, fractured feel to the narrative that no doubt mirrors the very difficult nature of how this all works. Opinions and alliances shift, people die, others prosper and it all kind of seems for nought, except that almighty dollar. Del Toro and Douglas fare best in terms of bearing witness to it all; both are changed men by the time their final scenes roll around and the arcs come full circle. They anchor the vast network of people from respective sides of the border, showing the multilayered damage that such a problem, and the ‘war’ against it unleashes. Endlessly fascinating film.